I talk a lot about expectations in my reviews, and my friends like to give me a hard time that I set mine too high. Their general rule of thumb is to set expectations low so that they are never disappointed. They believe I should do the same, and I respond with my general rule of thumbing my nose at them. It continues to amaze me that they are willing to pay ten bucks for subpar movies. I asked them if they would be okay with eating a ten dollar hamburger that was raw and smothered in vinegar, as long as they expected that going in, and they responded with “That’s not the same thing.” To which I responded, “You’re a fool.” Of course it’s the same thing – you are paying for a product and accepting that if it sucks, oh well. If that happened with your burger, you’d be asking for a new one or your money back. That’s where my whole review system came from; as a consumer, you have the right to ask for a refund. Why are movies any different? Of course, you should probably walk out of the theater before the film is over to justify a refund, but you get the idea. This brings me to the latest movie to spark this argument – Sucker Punch.
Based on previews alone, I knew this film had a very specific audience in mind – boys between the age of thirteen and seventeen. In fact, I believe Zack Snyder (writer/producer/director) went to an all-boys middle school, gathered all of the students in the gym, and asked each one of them to name one thing they want to see in the movie. “Robots! Ninjas! Guns! Explosions! Nazi robots! Dragons! Hot girls! Hot girls in very little clothing! Video games! Samurai! Knives! Swords! Awesome music! Did someone already say hot girls?!” After all the kids had their turn, Snyder simply smiled and said “Done.” Little did the kids know (or care) that Snyder also meant he was done using any part of his brain for story, creativity, character development, or coherence. The kids supplied all of the material and Snyder would be free to continue spending every waking moment trying to capture the perfect slow-motion close-up. And boy does he try a lot of those in this film.
Sucker Punch plays out almost exactly like that list from the kids – a series of scenes that would make for an awesome video game, but really just boil down to a series of exclamation marks. The movie starts with Babydoll (Emily Browning) accidentally killing her sister by shooting a light bulb instead of her child molesting step-father. He has her committed to a mental hospital and pays an orderly to have her lobotomized, which will occur in five days. All of this happens in near-black-and-white coloring, suggesting that the real world sucks and Snyder is the great and powerful Oz. With no warning (or dead witches) the film is suddenly bursting with color and whores, the asylum now a brothel and the girls all slutted out. The kids are getting what they want now, but what the hell was all the lead-up for? It seemed as if Snyder was beginning to tell a story, but realized he’s an idiot.
Babydoll soon discovers that she can hypnotize people with her erotic dance moves – none of which we ever get to see – and convinces four other girls to help her escape. The other girls have names just as juvenile and unexplained– Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish), and Amber (Jamie Chung) – which makes them perfect for turning an already absurd script into something even more ridiculous. Okay, Amber isn’t a stupid name, but just imagine them shouting each other’s names out during the film and try not to laugh. It’s just as hilarious as Dennis Quaid repeating “G.I. Joe” dozens of times in G.I. Joe.
Anyway, the side effect to Babydoll’s dancing is the five girls transport to random fantasy lands where they collect items to help them escape. These are the least obnoxious parts of the movie since that’s why we all went in the first place (and what the kids asked for). As I said, these scenes play out exactly like a video game – filled with action, gunfire, explosions, awesome music, fantastical settings complete with interesting enemies, and, of course, hot girls in little clothing. Aside from the fact that each fantasy scene has exactly nothing to do with the other fantasy scenes (another complete failure by Snyder to tell a story) these scenes are actually the only ones that make any sense. The brothel storyline is so confusing that several reviewers thought the brothel was actually real and the asylum was just a front. Not only was Snyder trying to go all Wizard of Oz on us, he was also trying to go all Inception on us by throwing multiple layers of fantasy at us. Had he simply cut out the goofy lobotomy/step-father story or the brothel, the fantasy/video game scenes could have fit nicely onto either one.
Proving that he has absolutely no idea how to craft a story, Snyder brings it home by changing the protagonist from Babydoll to Sweet Pea in the last third of the film. I don’t think that has ever been tried before… but it should never be tried again. As a bonus helping of his ineptitude, Snyder even tosses the mentor/father figure of Babydoll’s fantasies (Scott Glenn) into a closing scene that occurs in the near-black-and-white reality world, proving that Snyder has, indeed, seen The Wizard of Oz. Glenn doesn’t appear anywhere else in the film outside of the fantasies, so it makes no sense at all that he should pop up in the real world. Then again, nothing about this movie made any sense.
As bad as the movie was, it did contain two redeeming qualities. One is that it had some really great music, including a cover of “White Rabbit” and some music by the Lords of Acid. The other is that despite every attempt to make the girls all look fifteen (once again, catering to those junior high boys), they didn’t succeed with Abbie Cornish. I know this doesn’t seem like a redeeming quality, but it gives the adults in the audience an opportunity not to feel like a pedophile. Although, we probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Rating: If you were born before 1995 or have a vagina, ask for all of your money back because this movie isn’t for you.