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Movies Review

Sucker Punch

By
Emily Browning as Babydoll in Sucker Punch
Released on Friday, Apr 1 2011

"What are you looking for?" Scott Glenn's stale mentor figure asks Emily Browning's nondescript lead midway through Sucker Punch. Erm, how about a plot? Genial visionaries like David Lynch or Christopher Nolan have successfully made movies within a tapestry of dream worlds, but Zack Snyder is left floundering by such lofty ambitions. He has served up an incoherent and mindless mess, which functions as an excuse to show a group of nubile young ladies parading around in skimpy gear while beating off a procession of CGI baddies. Despite that description, it's not even remotely titillating due to the sheer vacuous nature of the supposed 'characters'.

There was a seed of a decent idea in the tale of a girl called Babydoll (Browning) who escapes into her imagination while being lobotomised, having been dumped in a mental hospital after wrongly being fingered for murdering her sister. Yet both the visual execution and story structure stink more than Alan Partridge's breath after a Scotch Egg gobbling frenzy. Bafflingly, Babydoll's retreat into her mind involves undertaking various inconsequential quests at the behest of Glenn's 'Wise Man', with the trigger-happy likes of Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone and Vanessa Hudgens giving her support in both her dream world (a grimy burlesque club) and her dream world within a dream world (a fiery CGI terrain populated by vicious red-eyed baddies who try to kill the protagonists for no apparent reason). Crikey.

Amusingly, Babydoll can only escape into the latter realm when she breaks into dance. It's a shame that any audience members watching Sucker Punch can't enjoy a similar release from their dire predicament, no matter how much effort and popcorn-spilling you put into deploying the Macarena. A mid-aisle jiggy would be a nice distraction from the woefully stilted scenes of interaction between the cast, which recall the uber-hamminess of Spiceworld: The Movie and Showgirls - but without any elements of camp fun. Or, ahem, nudity. It's not a case of the actresses being without talent. They are simply given no chance by the tripe masquerading as dialogue, and direction that unflatteringly lingers on their faces as they continually grit their jaws and widen their eyes in a desperate bid to make everyone buy into the seriousness of their circumstances.

Besides, the roles they play only exist in the confines of someone's mind anyway - and we're given no reason to care about their non-existent fates. More effort has been put into their looks than their characterisation. The prioritisation of the visual ahead of the emotion is epitomised by two elongated shots from Synder. One is of a button spinning on the floor after being ripped from a jacket, and the other is a of some ash slowly falling to the ground following the flicking of a cigar by one of the grotesque male caricatures found within the movie. Both intricate shots look beautiful when isolated, but are extremely frustrating within the context of a framework that dwells on the superficial while eschewing fleshing out the characters. It's the same point that many an embittered critic blabbers on about - namely that the script should be the main priority within the moviemaking sphere.

The action set-pieces, despite being accomplished on a technical level, do nothing to ramp up the interest. As with his previous movies, Snyder's prime objective appears to be the creation of iconic imagery, which he tries to thrust down the audience's gullet with mind-numbingly frequent use of slow-motion. It makes one yearn for a Fast Forward button. Scratch that - make that an Eject button. Such visual predilection might work in an advert or music video, but it comes across as utterly soulless within the framework of a 110-minute movie. It's a shame, as the pre-credits sequence is an impressive piece of stylised visual storytelling that uses stark imagery rather than words to establish Babydoll's backstory. Afterwards, any attempts to tell the narrative are thrown out in favour of spectacle - when the two needed to be interwoven for the movie to work. As well as squandering this enticing beginning, Sucker Punch's monotonous and emotionless nature also fails to harness the qualities of its impressive soundtrack - including Bjork's brilliant 'Army Of Me'.

There's more empathy to be derived from jabbing a Lego man with a sharp utensil than from witnessing the plight of the fetishised 'dumb-sels' in distress (and knee-high stockings) here. Just how was this staggeringly poor script given the green light? Quite possibly because there was belief that it would look very cool on the big screen. Yet this means nothing when there are no feelings attached to any of the characters and their development within the events that unfold.

"You will be unprepared," states the promotional material for Sucker Punch. Damn right.

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