A little interpretive dance might have been a nice break from the dumbening effect of Sucker Punch. Director Zack Snyder, who co-wrote Sucker Punch with Steve Shibuya, comes out of the more-is-more school of filmmaking. If one explosion is good, 20 are even better. Giant robot samurai demon things? Dragons? Reanimated Nazis? Good, good, good, and keep ‘em coming. And if you could make the skirt on that warrior girl even shorter...
You get the picture. But wait, there’s more: Sucker Punch is sexploitation pretending to be grrl empowerment, because the girls in the short skirts and lingerie also have samurai swords, big guns and artillery. Sure, they’re captives in a brothel, sexually if vaguely menaced in a PG-13 kinda way; but they’re trying to escape, see. Sisters are doing it for themselves – just, you know, in their underwear.
This is not to say that Snyder (Watchmen, 300) is not an equal-opportunity fetishist. 300 featured scantily clad Spartan menfolk with big swords fighting giant elephants and slaves and such, and it was every bit the crappy, loud, visual bombardment that Sucker Punch is. 300 looked like the Frank Miller graphic novel on which it was based. Sucker Punch, although an original creation for Snyder, borrows pretty liberally from Kill Bill, Lord of the Rings, Chicago, Inception and Japanese manga, all dismembered and reassembled and reanimated as the fugue fantasy state of Babydoll (Emily Browning), a Sailor Moon lookalike with platinum ponytails and an itty-bitty sailor suit.
Babydoll has had a tragic life. Her mother died, then her sister died, and her abusive stepfather had her committed to an insane asylum during what appears to be the 1950s. So it’s a really bad, snake-pit type of asylum where Babydoll is scheduled for a lobotomy. It’s so terrible that Babydoll fantasizes that she is instead a captive in a brothel, about to be sold to a mysterious fellow known as “the Highroller” (John Hamm).
When Babydoll dances, she goes another level deeper into a fantasy-within-the-fantasy, where she encounters a mysterious mentor (Scott Glenn) who tells her that she can free herself by collecting a map, a key, a knife, fire and an unknown something. Then she has to fight some giant samurai robot things. It’s too bad that she can’t imagine herself into a wildflower meadow with some frolicking unicorns and chirping bluebirds or something. And Oprah could be there. That would be nice.
Back in the brothel, Babydoll becomes pals with Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweetpea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), who all join in her quest to be free of the brothel’s mean, violent pimp Blue (Oscar Isaac). I guess back in the asylum, they all want to escape too. So Babydoll dances her way into one thematic epic battle after another (fight dragons for fire, Nazis for a map et cetera). This requires much slow-motion photography, and much leaping, slashing, gnashing, shooting and blowing things up. Babydoll’s imagination looks suspiciously like that of a 13-year-old boy who spends all of his free time playing video games. This is also, coincidentally, what Snyder’s films look like.
I’m trying to imagine who might enjoy this movie. I can’t do it. The suggestive salaciousness isn’t titillating, the pretense of female empowerment isn’t convincing, the characters are one-dimensional, and the story doesn’t even bother to hold together. The movie is all style and visual excess, but it’s ugly, overly busy, derivative and boring. You’ve seen all of this before, even if you haven’t seen it all scrambled together in one movie.
Syd’s pick: For a tonic against movies like Sucker Punch, check out You Can Count on Me
Ten years ago this week, I saw You Can Count on Me, a lovely and incisive family drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Terry Prescott (Mark Ruffalo) turns up in his upstate home town of Scottsville to borrow money from his older sister Sammy (Laura Linney). Sammy and Terry were orphaned as children, when their parents were killed in a car accident. Terry dealt with the loss by detaching himself from the world: He drifts around from town to town, job to job, friend to friend. Sammy, a single mom, has adapted in her own way. She still lives in the house in which she grew up. She’s reliable and punctual; she juggles responsibilities; she has a steady job in a bank. But when Terry comes home, a little chaos follows in his wake, and Sammy finds her carefully balanced life spinning out of control.
Lonergan’s screenplay quickly and economically delves deeply into each character, exposing the flaws and the strengths. Each is more than just a superficial type, more than a vehicle for a moral or message. They look and act like real people, and the effect of that strikingly simple dramatic strategy can’t be overestimated. You Can Count on Me is a quiet, naturalistic drama that is all the more affecting because it is so much more real.
@ Syd M