Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sucker Punch (2011)

Simultaneously over-ambitious and hideously involving, this girl-power flick tells, in metaphor, the story of a group of female mental patients and their attempts to escape, both spiritually and physically. After we are given the opening titles on a stage, as if setting up a musical, the ace opening tells us, without words, how the protagonist, "Baby-Doll," got herself incarcerated by assaulting her scheming, money-hungry caretaker. Once arrived at the mental hospital, she almost immediately reverts into a sort of trauma-induced hypnosis, where in her perception, the hospital is a brothel, her fellow patients are beleaguered prozzies, and the teeth-gnashing caretaker is a reptilian, pencil-moustached pimp. Revealing much else would betray the wild, intercontextual nature of the script, and the various, dare-I-say-it, sucker punches the film provides throughout. What I can say is that there is yet another level of reality the film sinks into, and, without a set of false, loosely followed rules (*ahem*, Inception), the visuals of these fantasies are allowed to be, well, just as crazy as what you've seen in the films' promotional materials. While much of the more lavish and mind-blowing visuals are contained solely in the characters' minds, they manage to incorporate enough of the main plotline to be more than mere distractions in what is, otherwise, an intimate, introspective tale. The performances of the main girls are hit-and-miss, with Jena Malone's Rockit faring the best (her energy is infectious, whether dispensing dialogue, or dispensing asskicking) and Vanessa Hudgens, surprisingly enough (heh, heh), embarrassing herself, and looking like she'd much rather be on the set of Beastly. Carla Gugino, with her comic-book lips and physique, is perfectly cast as the resident "Madam," Oscar Isaac is a thoroughly hissable villain, and, best of all, Scott Glenn reminds everyone how truly awesome Scott Glenn can be with his pseudo-Jiminy Cricket musings ("And one more thing…").
As grateful as I was for all of director and co-writer Zack Snyder's risk taking, as well as the unabashedly FLAWLESS integration of special effects and live-action, the film did not end up coming together into perfection the way that I had hoped for. I have done a great job of keeping spoilers off of Righteous Film, and I refuse to end that for the sake of attacking the decisions made in the film's third-act, but I must call to attention the striking similarities between the ending of this film and that of a certain futuristic spoof of bureaucracy (saying which would kinda ruin it). That crib, along with several other decisions make the ending feel like a sort of acknowledgement of the films stylized, inorganic nature, which would be fine, had that been the film's only goal. However, there are lengthy scenes, with substance, that serve only to invest the viewer's emotion in the plotline, the circumstances, and the characters, and the style-over-substance ending seems to undermine these more powerful, merciless moments. Had the ending lived up to the promise of those earlier SUCKER PUNCHES (the title, if you haven't guessed, is quite apt), the film would probably be the best film of Snyder's career, and the template for a new era in action-oriented fantasy. But alas, as is, the whole thing suffers Snyder's recurring lack of cohesion in his films (save for the director's cut of Watchmen), and the movie is best enjoyed as, simply, a movie, and nothing more. Which is a shame, because the successes of this movie are beyond mere moments; it achieves a certain flexibility in its tone and structure that few films try and pull off, and even fewer films actually achieve. Maybe the originally cast lead, Amanda Seyfried, would have been the missing link to the movie that is and the movie that could be, but as is, we are left with a fascinating, yet flawed (I think I already see the problems his Superman movie will have) drama-fantasy-sci-fi-actioner.

Recommended (despite its flaws) to fans of outside-the-box sensationalism (i.e. Sin City), Zack Snyder, and GIRLS!! Seriously, hearing that the majority of the films audience have, so far, been male was a disappointment, because this is easily one of the more empowering female-centric action films I've seen in recent memory. But I guess that repeatedly shagging Ashton Kutcher, Jake Gyllenhaal, or Justin Timberlake without the threat of a long-term relationship is all the escapist fantasy that the current generation of young females need.

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