Sucker Punch: The Sucker is Whoever Bought The Movie Ticket

After struggling to stay awake during Zack Snyder’s interminable and depressing music video Sucker Punch, I debated whether I should call it exploitative. It is, after all, a movie about teenage girls who are kidnapped, made into sex slaves, and murdered if they disobey, yet the seriousness of the subject matter is undercut since it’s merely used as an excuse for some exhausting and dull fight scenes with robots and dragons. Additionally, the visuals are constantly exploiting their scantily-clad bodies to titillate the audience. In the end, I decided the movie probably isn’t exploitative, because that implies thought went into it. The most depressing thing about Sucker Punch isn’t the subject matter itself, but the fact that Snyder thought that he could fool audiences into thinking this story is good. It’s akin to watching someone else play a bad, long, noisy, and uninteresting video game.

We open with a music video that shows our main character, Baby Doll (Emily Browning), and her back story. Her stepfather murders her mother, finds out that the will left everything to the daughters, so he rapes Baby Doll’s sister which leads to the accidental shooting of the sister at the hands of Baby Doll, who being a young girl isn’t too experienced with a gun. The stepfather takes her to an insane asylum, where a Polish doctor (Carla Gugino) runs experimental procedures on her patients and a corrupt orderly (Oscar Isaac) agrees to have Baby Doll lobotomized in five days when the doctor (Jon Hamm) comes to town. Then, we enter a dream world, in which the Polish doctor is a madam, the orderly is a pimp for prostituting kidnapped girls, and the doctor is the High Roller, a man who buys a sex slave and then kills them… or something.

One day, while learning to dance for her johns, Baby Doll has a dream sequence (keep in mind this is all within a dream sequence). A mystical man (Scott Glenn, who clearly realizes how dumb this movie is) tells Baby Doll to escape, she must find five things: a map, fire, a knife, a key, and the fifth is a mystery. She recruits some of the other girls, including Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (a very un-blonde Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), to help her obtain these items. The thefts of these items take place whenever Baby Doll dances, since she bewitches everyone around her with her dancing to the point of hypnosis– and no, we never see Baby Doll dance. The thefts manifest themselves as– you guessed it!– dream sequences, in which Baby Doll and her cohorts apparently live out a 13-year-old video game nerd’s fantasy, dressing in tiny lingerie while running around and killing robots, Nazis, dragons, Lord of the Ring style orcs, and ninjas.

Sound cool? It’s not. First of all, these action-packed dream sequences, featured so prominently in the commercials, make up roughly 30 minutes of the two-hour film. Second of all, to provide full disclosure to the reader, I did fall asleep at one point– and it was during one of the action sequences. Because the girls are essentially invincible in this dream within the dream, and they vanquish opponents by the hundreds with no real threat or imminent danger, there’s nothing at stake. It’s like having your video game character on cheat mode: it might have been satisfying to execute for Zack Snyder, but there’s no reason for us to watch. Plus, even though some of the visuals are indeed cool-looking, they don’t mean anything. All of that visual acumen and CGI prowess doesn’t mean squat if you can’t make an audience care about what they’re looking at. I was more intrigued by what was happening in the prostitution house, because while it was still a dream, at least it seemed like characters could get hurt and either achieve or lose their dreams.

Unfortunately, we also don’t care about the characters or their dreams. We get that they’re sad, but we don’t care why, beyond our basic humanity not enjoying seeing a sadistic man slap around teen girls. The character development is as follows: we know about Baby Doll what we saw in the music video at the beginning of the film, and nothing else. We know Sweet Pea and Rocket are sisters, and Sweet Pea followed Rocket here. We know that Blondie and Amber have nice bodies and ample cleavage. That’s the extent of the characterization. The actresses get to do nothing, except for Carla Gugino, who now after Watchmen delivers the second awful performance in a row in a Zack Snyder film. The only engaging and interesting character is Oscar Isaac’s sadist pimp– how, in a movie of this subject matter, is that possible? Plus, the constant display of the women in tiny clothing in this setting, used to make the target teenage boy audience tingle, is off-putting. Imagine if Liam Neeson’s Taken had throughout the film cut to lingering shots of the kidnapped daughter’s cleavage and thighs throughout the film. Seems to clash tonally with the subject matter, doesn’t it? This entire film is one gigantic clash of a series of tones, none of which come within the vicinity of meshing.

Movies like The Adjustment Bureau, Battle: Los Angeles, and Sucker Punch make me sit and wonder about how executives decide to fund films. Clearly, writers go into a room, pitch a central concept and a couple of cool special effect images, and then they’re handed a check for 75 to 100 million dollars to make their film. How in today’s economic climate are studios not more shrewd with their money? If Battle: Los Angeles had spent an extra 5 million dollars on developing a script with characters and dialogue, they would’ve doubled their box office take and profit. If The Adjustment Bureau had spent an extra 5 million dollars on figuring out the movie’s logic and basic storyline before shooting, again, double the profit. With Sucker Punch, the problem is more complex. There are layers of dreams, none of which work. There’s a message at the end, tritely delivered with laughable dialogue. There’s a gritty sex/rape/murder of teen girls plotline, mixed with exploitative sexy imagery. There’s a series of male fantasy action scenes that represent a tiny girl in underwear sexually writing on a table to save her life from the murderous pigs around her. There’s all this horror and absolutely none of it makes us care. The execs here should’ve said to Snyder, “We love your action scenes– now come back when there’s a story to justify them.” Sucker Punch will lose money at the box office because it was put together with zero story or character. A loss of money with all this “cool” action: now there’s a punch to the gut Snyder likely didn’t see coming.

~ by russellhainline on March 27, 2011.

2 Responses to “Sucker Punch: The Sucker is Whoever Bought The Movie Ticket”

  1. I think the most desapointing thing about this movie i that we don’t actually get to see babydolls dance cuz i’m guessing it was pretty frickin good it probably would have made te movie better

  2. wow no offense to who wrote this but ur a downer and cant really appreciate anything in life, once again no offense

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