By Carl Kozlowski
March 25, 2011
As a lifelong movie buff working my dream job as a film critic, I’m generally pretty easy to please. I go into every movie wanting to be entertained and willing to give the filmmaker a shot—in fact, so much so that some people have wondered if there’s anything I don’t like.
Well, have I got an answer for them: the new movie Sucker Punch is the worst, most agonizing and incomprehensible movie I have ever seen. Dark, grim and utterly unpleasant, it comes from the mind of Zack Snyder, who has directed the remake of Dawn of the Dead as well as 300, Watchmen and that weird owl movie from last fall. Tragically, he’s been announced as the director of an upcoming Superman reboot, which leads me to think it’s not Kryptonite that will kill the Man of Steel, but rather Zack Snyder.
Sucker Punch is unrelenting from the get-go, as the opening scene shows a teenage girl learning her mother has died, as her stepfather sneers at the death and her sadness. He flips out when he finds that his wife’s will left her apparent fortune to her two daughters, and his abusiveness compels the young blonde pigtailed gal to whip out a gun and try to shoot him—only to miss and accidentally kill her sister instead.
As a result, she gets packed off to a mental institution that may actually be a weird sort of bordello in which teen girls are dumped off and trained to dress like tramps and dance for paying male customers who then apparently have their way with them. Our protagonist is renamed Baby Doll and is ordered by a ridiculous evil choreographer with an atrocious Eastern European accent (Carla Gugino in a rare misfired role) to start dancing or die.
But when the music—if you can call it that, as it’s an utterly obnoxious sonic atrocity that sounds like Trent Reznor attempted to write a burlesque score—starts, Baby Doll closes her eyes, starts to shimmy a little, and ...
Here’s where it goes from a merely creepy pseudo-pedophilic fantasy to utterly insane and violent video game action. For instead of letting the audience actually see her dance, we see that Baby Doll is actually visualizing a fantasy world in which she’s suddenly standing outside a snowy Buddhist-style temple and is given a big sword and some cryptic instructions by an old man (veteran character actor Scott Glenn).
He basically tells her how to escape the institution, saying she needs to find a map, a key and some other random accoutrements to get out. He then says “and be ready to fight them” and shoves her out the door, where she sees three giant monstrous creatures wearing strange hats. What ensues next is a completely incomprehensible battle royale in which they whomp and kick her around before she decapitates one, cuts another’s arm off and then shoots the third in the head.
She’s victorious, but suddenly she’s back on stage getting leered at by all the men and stared at with gape-jawed admiration by the rest of the girls. Apparently, while we were watching her kill the samurai beasties she was actually dancing the most scandalous dance of all time.
This leads to the big escape plan, as she tells the rest of the girls that she’ll keep dancing to distract all the employees of the institution while the rest of the dancers sneak around grabbing the map and key and other stuff they need for the big getaway. They are all trying to get out before a supercreep customer named High Roller (inexplicably played by Jon Hamm, who should know better) shows up to take Baby Doll’s virginity from her. Since there are five items to snag, the audience get subjected to four or five more big, pointless, ugly, stupid action scenes including a World War II trench warfare-style sequence that again makes no sense and completely hides the actual dancing.
Throughout, we keep hearing the girls say or get told that they can escape if they really want to. And I assume most moviegoers unwitting enough to pay for this garbage can also make an escape anytime they want. Unfortunately, I had to stay through the whole thing and just fantasize about regaining two hours of my life.
From top to bottom, this is one weird and nasty enterprise. The fact these are teenage girls makes it especially creepy, and the fact that a bevy of rising actresses including Vanessa Hudgens agreed to play these glorified strippers with silly names is just sad.
One admittedly strange-sounding side note about all this is that none of the girls—not just Baby Doll—is really ever seen dancing. Now, as a Christian critic, I should perhaps commend Snyder’s attempt at some level of decorum. But the fact is, if you’re going to make a movie where females are forced to strip or dance dirty and it’s a key part of what you’re calling a plot, then you have to show at least some dancing. It turns out that the studio was so terrified of the movie tanking as an “R” after Snyder’s owl movie bombed and Watchmen underperformed that they forced it to wind up as a PG-13—forcing a whopping 18 minutes to get cut from the film. Even Snyder has been out in public touting the fact that the Blu-Ray will restore all that content, meaning he’s basically telling people wait for the video. I say, skip even that.
As I fled the theater the moment the credits started, I realized that the joke was truly on anyone who saw the movie. After all, it’s called Sucker Punch. And the producers have indeed sucker punched anyone who spends a dime to see this.