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Sucker Punch


Plenty of kick for an overnight rental

Rod Lott June 22nd, 2011

With "Sucker Punch," few in-betweeners exist. You either like it or you hate it with a fury of a thousand suns.

suckerpunch

One of the worst-reviewed films of the year thus far, it likely will see its reputation repaired and popularity improved as time goes by. Once upon a time, everybody loathed "Blade Runner," too.

That's not to say writer/director Zack Synder's follow-up to "Watchmen" is any kind of masterpiece. Easily the least satisfying of his four films, it still offers plenty of kick for an overnight rental. (For the raincoat population that fetishizes young women, however, I strongly recommend a flat-out blind buy.)

Snyder's story finds the now-parentless Baby Doll (Emily Browning, the girl from "Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events," all grown up) sent to an insane asylum by her greedy stepfather and marked for a lobotomy in five days' time. As the doc who performs such procedures (Jon Hamm, TV's "Mad Men") rares back the hammer to hit the pick poised precariously at her eye socket, Baby Doll reverts to her imagination — a fairy tale as coping mechanism — so that the next 100 minutes of our time take place within that split second.

In her imaginary world, she and her fellow exotic dancers — played by Abbie Cornish (“Limitless”), Jamie Chung (“Burning Palms”), Jena Malone (“The Ruins”) and Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical 3”) — plot to escape their harem-esque existence. All they have to do is acquire a map, fire, a knife and a key, all via war-torn, steampunk locales within her already-alternate being, where they face and fight mechanized gunmen, stone samurai, undead armies and fire-breathing dragons at the behest of the Wise Man (Scott Glenn, "Secretariat"), this movie's surrogate Master Po.

Baby Doll enters them by performing a striptease act that's supposedly the best cure for erectile dysfunction there is. Shrewdly — and to his credit, really, because no other element holds back but the sexual — Snyder never lets us see this bump 'n' grind beyond a few hesitant sways of the hip as she begins and fades into the unknown .

In each of these fantasy-within-a-fantasy scenarios, Snyder and his effects team go all-out, full-throttle, in an apparent bid to out-"Matrix" "The Matrix." Like those Wachowski sibs, they cull heavily from sci-fi and kung-fu flicks to deliver one gravity-defying sequence after another. Predictably, the effects are first-rate. Also predictably, they overdose on themselves, wearing out their welcome two-to-threefold. They’ve got that boom-boom-pow without the plot depth necessary for length justification.

I'm of the minority opinion that Snyder is a great director, and an outstanding visualist. Perhaps when he crawls out of his comfort zone of comic-book movies, other critics will admit to the same. But excess remains a sore spot, especially when repetition is practically a cast member; if he had trimmed his script by even one item, one girl, one mission, "Punch" wouldn't deflate as fast.

He has an eye for casting, too. Browning is an unlikely yet spectacular choice to front this kind of a film; whereas most studios would’ve demanded a model, he got an actress. Reuniting from “Watchmen,” Carla Gugino makes an impression as the girls’ mama hen, but isn’t in it enough for my tastes. Of the women over whom she watches, Cornish stands out. Radiating not only authentic talent, but old-school, movie-star looks, she’s got “It.”

“Sucker Punch” is the kind of movie you use to show off your Blu-ray player to friends who have yet to make the leap to the technology, in much the same way “The Matrix” was used to sing the praises of DVD. The clarity is stunning — no surprise there. The Blu-ray also offers a the option of watching an “extended cut,” which greatly lengthens the running time by about 20 minutes; outside from an early musical number that the theatrical version’s end credits hinted at, there’s nothing here that wasn’t worth cutting.

As far as extra features, there are two, but they’re good. One discusses its admittedly awesome soundtrack, which is electro-rock-opera in nature. The other collects four animated prequel shorts — or “motion comics” — that grant backstory to the various foes Baby Doll and company battle. While not needed to watch before the film, they’re nonetheless firmly rooted in spirit. —Rod Lott




 
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