Friday, March 25, 2011

Makes Frances Look Like A Fairy Tale: Sucker Punch

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I'll admit upfront that I wasn't feeling that great when I saw "Sucker Punch" this week. Going on day five of the worst cold of my life, I was on the mend but probably not in the best of spirits to be seeing a late night showing of a big, dumb movie. But one thing's for sure: The thing was loud enough to blast the congestion out of my ears.

"Sucker Punch" is the story of Baby Doll, a teenager in what appears to be the 1950s who, after the death of their mother, tries to save her sister from the creepy and molesty hands of their stepfather. This ends in tragedy, and Baby Doll is sent to the World's Worst Mental Hospital to be lobotomized. (These aren't spoilers; this all happens in the film's first 10 minutes or so.)

At the hospital, Baby Doll retreats into a fantasy world where, instead of prisoners in a mental ward, she and her fellow inmates are prisoners in a burlesque club that is also a brothel. This whorehouse is only marginally better than the mental hospital--their costumes are prettier, and they get to wear make-up--so it seems an odd choice in fantasy worlds.

When Baby Doll is forced to dance, she retreats into yet another fantasy world that plays out exactly like a video game level. She gains weapons, fights a boss monster, and gathers the first of five items she will need if she wants to escape.

And thus the rest of the movie plays out: Baby Doll does her amazing dances, (which we never actually see), those who watch are hypnotized by it, and she and her friends embark on various battles, fighting such things as reanimated World War I Germans, fire-breathing dragons, and shiny robots. The first few battle sequences are visually amazing, exciting, and a lot of fun. But, like in many video games, the other levels fights end up looking a lot alike, and eventually, they get kind of routine.

Now, I don't have a problem with big, dumb movies. I've loved a lot of big, dumb movies. And "Sucker Punch" could have been one of the biggest, dumbest, and funnest. But I feel like director Zack Snyder chickened out, and instead felt the need to wrap the movie in a false sense of import by adding all the mental hospital nonsense.

It is so clear this movie exists for the sole purpose of showing pretty girls in skimpy outfits, fighting really awesome baddies. So why frame that with a story that makes "Frances" look like a fairytale?

That opening set-up lingers over the movie, giving everything an unnecessary feeling of gloom, leading to an ending that is absolutely depressing, and absolutely predictable. It seems a bit silly to set most of the movie in a burlesque brothel, and not show any actual song and dance numbers.

From what I've read, it sounds like Snyder intended the movie to have some musical numbers, but decided they lightened the tone of the film, so he cut those out, leaving one to play over the ending credits. That's a shame. A few moments of song and dance would have given the movie some much needed levity, as it's virtually devoid of humor as it is.

And yes, I have failed to mention any of the film's stars. That's because there's really nothing memorable about any of the actors on screen, and almost every line of dialogue--what little there is--is forgettable. Although I will say this: Jon Hamm, what the hell are you doing in this?

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