dir. Zach Snyder
Release Date: Mar 25, 11
In the next few weeks, you’re going to hear a lot of bashing on Sucker Punch, as the preemptive circling of the wagons began the minute Warner Bros. declined to screen it for critics. This will be unfair in some ways, as the hive mind mentality of ripping a film to shreds is a serious issue in film criticism right now; the claws are now coming out before the movie even has a chance to. That aside, Zach Snyder’s film, for the most part, is going to deserve every bit of it. Sucker is an unmitigated disaster, an ill-conceived attempt at a neo-Gothic Grimm fairy tale fused with an explosion of film geek aesthetics that fails to find its footing at every turn.
Babydoll (Emily Browning) has a rough life. After losing her mother, she and her sister are left in the charge of her leering stepfather, who ends up pawning her off on the (not so) good folks at the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane. Snyder’s depiction of this sequence is one of the better moments of the whole film, as it sets the tone for Sucker, one of using surface objectification to belie absolute empowerment; for all the things wrong with this movie, it’s a pleasure to report that cheap exploitation sleaze is (mostly) not among them.
Once Babydoll settles into her asylum and immediately begins to plot her escape, the film goes off the rails in a way that’s almost admirable in its wild-eyed, feral delirium; watching it, you develop the overwhelming desire to have been a fly on the wall in the pitch meeting for this movie that somehow got it greenlit. Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) is a doctor at the hospital who, in the hallucinatory maybe-alternate reality in which most of the movie takes place, instructs the girls to dance by finding the dance within themselves, in the vein of the “spirit animal” concept. Through this, Babydoll discovers she has a hypnotic power over the men in charge of the hospital, particularly Blue (Oscar Isaac), who rules over the girls with an iron fist and (it’s implied) uses them in some sort of seedy burlesque/prostitution ring.
Still following? No? Well, that’s fair, because Sucker defies you to follow it for much of its runtime (two hours even, though admittedly the film hustles through that). The idea of Babydoll’s doe-eyed sexuality allowing her to take hold of the men around her is fascinating, but then the film takes this very, very literally by transporting us into Babydoll’s head during these dances, where she and her fellow inmates Rocket, Sweet Pea, Blondie and Amber (Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung) run around in not much clothing laying waste to ninjas, dragons, robots and assorted other enemies, spurred on by a mysterious sage (Scott Glenn). Glenn’s performance is one of the highlights of the film, for he takes what is quite literally a purposeless character and turns it into a campy Yoda.
Camp is a big keyword in wrapping one’s head around exactly what Snyder was thinking in making this movie, because it’s an absolute embrace of bizarro-world feminism. The film is one R rating away from turning into Russ Meyer’s Revenge of the Asylum Vixens, and that’s not necessarily bad; while Browning is certainly no Tura Satana, she’s convincing in the role of the submissive-turned-Amazon-woman in a small body, and the sheer lunacy of building a sci-fi/fantasy film around burlesque dancers in a psych ward makes this a movie that’s absolutely destined for the midnight circuit. Sucker Punch is a failure, but it’s a high, triumphant one.