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Review: ‘Sucker Punch’

Please Don’t Be a Sucker and Pay for This Movie!

Credit: Warner Brothers

Above: Striking an action pose: Jena Malone, Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish in "Sucker Punch."

Zack Snyder needs to be sucker punched for making "Sucker Punch" (opening March 25 throughout San Diego) and stealing two hours of my life that I will never get back.

"Sucker Punch" is so bad that my friend Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings wanted to start a Facebook game of "I would rather…" and he kicked it off with "I would rather eat ostrich vomit than see this movie again." In my post screening delirium and rage I even suggested I would rather have Sarah Palin as president than see "Sucker Punch" again. Yes it was that bad.

I did not have high hopes for "Sucker Punch" but I did think it might be a female version of "300" with scantily clad women kicking ass instead of Speedo-clad Spartans. I thought it might look cool and have decent action. Plus I love the idea of a film with a group of women kicking ass. It's too rare in cinema so any film that promises such a novelty is worth seeing, right? Wrong! Zack Synder's "Sucker Punch" was so bad that it's likely to make it even more difficult to make female action films in the future.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Emily Browning as Baby Doll in "Sucker Punch."

So where to begin? Well, "Sucker Punch" doesn't waste any time flaunting its awfulness. The opening plays out like a series of bad and pretentious music videos featuring wussy covers of familiar songs. These almost wordless sequences (I guess I should be grateful for the lack of dialogue) establish the tragic back-story for Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a young woman whose mother dies and whose stepfather tries to molest her sister so Baby Doll attacks him and accidentally kills her sis and then lands in a mental institution. So Baby Doll is in the loony bin but imagines that she's in some kind of house of prostitution where, when she dances, she's transported to yet another fantasy land where she and the other girls are kickass fighters going out on missions that will ultimately lead to their escape and freedom.

If that sounds like a plot, don't be fooled. The film is as flimsy as the Japanese schoolgirl dress Baby Doll wears. "Sucker Punch" has so many problems that I don't know where to begin slamming it. The whole conceit of Baby Doll escaping into a fantasy world (a la Jonathan Pryce's character in "Brazil") is ridiculous because it's so obvious. At least in "Brazil" there was some mystery as to where the dividing line between the real and the fantasy world lay. In "Sucker Punch" it's just a lame ass excuse for the girls to change their costumes but each world is very separate and distinct with no clever interplay between the two. At the end of the film, when Snyder wants to show us that it was all just a fantasy, he takes us on a tour through the insane asylum to show us that, for example, the cook in the fantasy world was… wait for it… the cook in the real world! Holy crap! That was unexpected.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Barbie doll action in "Sucker Punch."

Now I could have forgiven a lot if the action rocked. But there's more crying than action here, and what little action there is is dull and unimpressive. There's no real action or fights here, just cute girls striking an action pose. The actresses simply don't display any flair for the physicality needed to sell the action. I'm surprised these girlie girls didn't have side view mirrors attached to their bustiers so they could check their make up during battle. This must be the first action soap opera as Snyder emphasizes the soapy melodrama of the girls striving to attain their freedom and each sacrificing for the others. If this had been made in the 30s it would have had Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Olivia DeHavilland, Norma Shearer, and maybe Paulette Goddard -- and it would have been better. If Snyder had any sense of film history he could have blended 30s Warner Brother melodramas with sordid 50s insane asylum films with 80s Hong Kong action and come up with a collision of styles and cultures that could have dazzled. But that's asking too much of the "visionary" Snyder.

Credit: Warner Brothers

The guilty party: Zack Snyder. He needs to have his DGA card revoked.

Snyder got slapped with that "visionary" label solely because he used Frank Miller's bold comic book "300" as a storyboard and gave us a film that looked strikingly fresh because of that. Plus it was unbelievably amped on steroids and testosterone. But Snyder's no visionary. He's a hollow shell of a director who's completely shot his wad and has nothing left to give because he never had any vision of creativity of his own to begin with. His "Dawn of the Dead" merely remade George Romero's zombie classic with a bigger budget and slicker effects; "300" succeeded because of Frank Miller's vision; and what little was good in "Watchman" came from the graphic novel. But "Sucker Punch" is all Snyder. There's no one else's vision to steal from and the result is a story and film so thin and hollow that it shatters and crumbles to dust almost as soon as the first image hits the screen.

There is absolutely nothing that engages you about the film. You don't care about the characters. The dialogue is trite and laughable. The action isn't even up to the caliber of a video game. And Snyder doesn't even know how to make his attractive cast look sexy. Sure they are scantily clad but it's like some twelve-year-old's fantasy of a hot chick. Snyder doesn't seem to understand that it's not just the costume that makes them hot. Diana Rigg (Emma Peel in TV's "The Avengers"), Pam Grier ("Coffy," "Foxy Brown"), Tura Satana ("Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill"), and Lucy Lawless ("Xena") were hot action babes because they were badasses that could genuinely kick some major butt. They were also women with some dimensionality and I'm not just talking about their physical attributes. But the whiny, wimpy women of "Sucker Punch" are just calendar girls who play at being action heroes and end up more like Barbie action figures.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Abbie Cornish (center) and the girls in "Sucker Punch."

Snyder's casting is also part of the problem. He has cast actresses (Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish) that are more girl-next-door cute than women who look like they can either survive as prostitutes or as fighters. I mean how can you have Vanessa Hudgens, a Disney star and the lead of the "High School Musical" films, as one of your action stars? Plus she has sooooo much hair that it was distracting. These girls look like they'd cry if they broke a nail or got a run in their stockings. I think they spent more on the false eyelash budget here then on bullets and that's not good. Then as the male mentor we get Scott Glen, who is essentially the video game character the girls' bump into to get their assignments and the occasional word of wisdom. Too bad David Carradine passed away or else he would have been perfect for Glen's role. Know what I mean, Grasshopper?

As for the look of the film, Snyder just color codes the various worlds so the mental institution is blue, the prostitution house a honey amber, and the video game action world is a faded gray. But there's no real sense of style. Snyder culls elements from video games, 40s war pics, "Lord of the Rings," and more but never invests the film with any style of its own so it's not even fun to look at. Part of the problem too is that the film is PG-13 so Snyder can't push the envelope in terms of the action as he did in "Dawn of the Dead" and "300." Snyder could have also done a lot to improve the film if he had just displayed a less pretentious attitude and at least a modicum of fun. There is no sense of fun anywhere in this film and that kills it.

"Sucker Punch" (rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language) is so bad that it makes "Battle: LA" look like "Citizen Kane." I beg you not to pay to see this movie but if you feel some uncontrollable urge to see it, please buy a ticket to "Paul" and then sneak in to see "Sucker Punch." It's so bad that the Director's Guild should revoke Snyder's membership and he should never be allowed to direct again… But wait… Snyder is scheduled to direct the newest, Christopher Nolan-produced "Superman." Yikes! My interest in that project just plummeted to zero. Hopefully Nolan will see "Sucker Punch" and immediately fire Snyder... Well I can hope can't I?

Companion viewing: "Brazil," "Heroic Trio," "300," "Kill Bill," "Volcano High"

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