review by IAN JOHNSTON

Could whacky Zack (300/Watchmen) Snyder’s latest cranked up celluloid atrocity extravaganza mark the death knell for intelligible and intelligent American mainstream cinema? Maybe not, but it certainly takes a large CGI stake and plunges it deep into the still beating heart of narrative coherence, vaguely rounded characters/character development, style, wit, sober imagination, pacing, scoring, humanity; in fact all the skills that ”Ëœold’ Hollywood once displayed in abundance, even in the most paltry fare it produced.

All aboard the narrative incoherence express. In the opening and most assured sequence in the film, which tellingly runs in the style of a silent movie, beautiful Babydoll (Emily Browning) is framed by her twisted stepfather for the murder of her younger sister. She is taken to the fearsome 1950’s/1960’s Lennox House for the Criminally Insane and is a prospective candidate for a good old-fashioned frontal lobotomy, to be administered by visiting quack, High Roller (Jon ”ËœMad Men’ Hamm, in an embarrassing cameo role). Babydoll plans to escape, by befriending four other sexy young female inmates ”“ Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung) and all American Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish)- and by submerging into her own fantasy view of the laughing house as a seedy brothel/nightclub, run by the sleazy Blue (Oscar Isaac) and cranky Eastern European doctor/therapeutic performance dance instructor Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino).

When Babydoll is encouraged to dance for perspective clients, she enters another imaginary world of no-holds barred combat, added by her scantly clad team of super chick friends. Helped by a Wise Man (Scott Glenn), who appears at an Asian style temple instructing Babydoll to collect five different items to insure their escape from the asylum, who then reappears periodically in different absurd situations offering various ”Ëœlife lesson’ platitudes (“Remember, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”), the girls do battle with giant mechanised Japanese Samurai, undead German corpse troops on the fields of World War One and a huge castle filled with troll creatures left over from Lord of the Rings and a giant fire breathing dragon for good measure. Every weapon known to man is available to the girls and they make full use of them; hacking, shooting, decapitating and exploding anything that gets in their way. Bombarded by CGI and booming sound effects, these sequences are the audience ”Ëœmoney shots’ for Sucker Punch. When the Sturm and Drang stops and emoting is attempted by the cast, tedium begins. Will Babydoll and her team get away? Will you care? Are you in a coma?

Under the cover of being an ”Ëœinspirational’ tale of ”Ëœempowering’ female imagination, Sucker Punch, written by Snyder and Steve Shibuya, is in fact an ill-conceived and thematically bankrupt adolescent male wet dream. But the film does not really deliver on the sex front, as Babydoll’s exotic dances are never shown, but are instead ”Ëœinterpreted’ by her spectacular prowess on the battlefield. Obviously the sight of attractive young girls blasting machine guns at all and sundry is more alluring than any dance sequence Snyder could envisage. Conceivably, being generous, Snyder knows that his intended audience would find this too intimidating.

Perhaps Sucker Punch is the latest example of this fearful new dawn of ”ËœPost-Empire’ art, which visionary author Brett Easton Ellis named, but has not yet fully defined. Sucker Punch definitely establishes a massive generational divide between its intended audience – slack-jawed, dim-witted, pot addled, adolescent, prospective cannon fodder males, aged between 12 and 18 – and everyone else. In some ways Sucker Punch could resemble a whacked out fever dream apparition devised by Charlie Sheen (it is certainly ”Ëœsexist’ enough), but it never reaches those epic heights of his inspired semi-lyrical flights of fancy in his internet communiqués. Sucker Punch is pretty lazy hack work (no boundaries of time, space and place, man), but Robert De Niro (who has now become his own ghastly Rupert Pupkin creation) isn’t in it so an essential quality of Marlon Brando style self-destruction, degradation and self-flagellation is also sadly absent.

Essentially Sucker Punch is the nihilistic cinematic equivalent of Rebecca Black’s auto-tuned anthem ”ËœFriday’ and makes the Charlie’s Angels movies look like the work of Sergei Eisenstein. One of the most heinous crimes the film commits is Marius De Vries and Tyler Bates’ ”Ëœarrangements’ of rock standards throughout Sucker Punch, presumably to save money in having to purchase the real versions. These dunderheads are free to rip asunder The Eurythmics’ abysmal ”ËœSweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ and the odious Queen’s ”ËœI Want It All’ but their achingly calamitous interpretation of Iggy and the Stooges’ sacred song ”ËœSearch and Destroy’ is surely punishable by death of a thousand cuts. Yet Sucker Punch does possess an undeniably terrible, sterile, numbing beauty (it is too cold to be ”Ëœcamp’) that J.G Ballard would have recognised. The film possibly also speaks volumes about the current psychic state of America, which is almost too terrifying to contemplate.

I have seen the future and it is a repeated Sucker Punch to the brain, forever. In the words of the tagline for the film, ”ËœYou will be unprepared.’

Cert: 12 A Running Time: 110 mins. Out: 1st April 2011
Copyright © Ian Johnston 2011

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