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Was ever a character as popular of late as Alice of Wonderland?  First, an entire fashion movement started in Japan branching all around the world celebrating Alice’s ruffles, ribbons and pinafores.  Then Tim Burton gave us his spin on Lewis Carroll’s favourite girl in his 2010 film.  Now director Zack Snyder gives us a very different tale of a lost blonde desperate to find her way through some very surreal circumstances with Sucker Punch.

A girl only known to us as Babydoll is in mourning; she’s lost her beloved mother and sister in short succession.  Sadly for Babydoll, she’s sitting shiva in an insane asylum thanks to the machinations of her evil stepdad, who wants the fortune his departed wife left to her children.  This particular snake pit employs a bit of radical therapy that Bob Fosse would’ve loved.  The young, nubile female inmates -- and they are all without exception young and nubile -- are put through their paces in the asylum’s “theatre,” expressing their innermost demons through dance.  Yes, I said dance.  Apparently Babydoll’s pirouettes are enough to cause mass hallucinations, which enable her to construct a plan of escape for herself and the rest of the young, nubile female inmates.  As part of the scheme, the other girls must retrieve items from the institution and its staff and visitors without Babydoll because when she starts her shimmy, she is off in another world full of giant samurai, Nazi zombies, dragons and androids.  All of these must be conquered by superior fighting skills, firepower and teamwork which Babydoll never knew she had.  As things get more treacherous they also become more trippy, whose reality is this anyway?  Have the folks at the Happy House been Inceptioned?

I am still at a loss as to how to feel about Sucker Punch.  There’s so much to look at that’s great and certainly hits many right marks with me.  It’s surreal, visually stylish, has lots of excellent fight choreography, the camera is well placed during said fight scenes and doesn’t make me ill -- a rarity these days -- and the soundtrack’s fabulous.  The idea of an action film held down by nothing but a score of cool actresses was something to look forward to.  However, what I had hoped would be a watershed moment for female viewers who really enjoy seeing tough broads wield fists of fury, was something a bit … different.   Sucker Punch might be the priciest bit of softcore porn ever produced for the otaku and gamer set.  I feel like I’ve just watched the very expensive live action love child of the Final Fantasy and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball video games.  In Babydoll’s “reality” the best way to kill your opponents is to not wear pants.  Corsets, stockings, leotards and always, always heels, yes, but a nice comfortable pair of jeans or even yoga pants - are you mad?  The women are also done up in higher hair than a Priscilla Presley imitator and more make-up than a year’s worth of drag balls.  They always look as if they’re ready to break into the “Cell Block Tango” number from Chicago.  Besides breaking it down in the chop-socky department and firing guns that weigh far more than they do - combined - the actresses’ other amazing physical feat was opening and closing their eyes with about fifty pounds of false eyelashes on them.  If they blinked fast enough they could’ve taken flight.  What I guess was meant to be campy (- including the casting someone who looked like Divine out of drag as Babydoll’s stepfather), never quite bubbled to that froth, instead wallowing in a mildly icky shallow sleaze.  Sucker Punch’s utter hollowness makes it feel even dirtier; there’s a plot in there somewhere, but you neither care enough about it nor the characters to figure it out, so one is left to wonder if Snyder only made this film for his gorgeous cast to be ogled at?

On the other hand, I can’t say that it isn’t entertaining.  In all seriousness, the actresses are adorable, with Jena Malone standing out in a Joey Heatherton shag and cheeky grin as the spunky optimist, Rocket.  Emily Browning makes a great cypher in an abbreviated Japanese fuku and a katana with cellphone charms dangling off the end as Babydoll.  Her face is a blank slate that can age from twelve to fifty depending on the lighting and make-up. There’s even veteran tough guy Scott Glenn coming away a bit like the late David Carradine as the team’s Yoda-Wan Kenobi, guiding them through their preter-conscious missions.  The ladies of the cast seem to have really made an effort with training for the battle scenes, selling the fights and wire-fu and they look absolutely fabulous doing it, but you can’t help but wonder if they knew they were being bilked somehow with regard to the half-baked, afterthought narrative?

Director Snyder uses the look of the film -- basically a graphic novel come to life -- to sell it and to that end Sucker Punch is mesmerising.  The premise of each “dance scene” representing another genre of fantasy or action is nifty.  The first moment we see the giant samurai with scarred swords bearing down on tiny Babydoll is thrilling.  There’s a kawaii moment when in the midst of WWII, one of the girls pilots a futuristic land-air combat vehicle with a pink Dunny-like rabbit painted on the front.  The team later invades what resembles the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry overrun by The Lord of the Ring’s Orcs on their way to fight an angry mommy dragon (- who had my sympathies more than any of the cast).  The final plateau is straight out of Tron with the girls on some kind of galaxy express railway, battling faceless Terminators.  I actually began to get impatient for the next fantasy insert and was surprised this hadn’t been filmed in 3D, which all the explosions, Dragonball Z-esque power ups, flying kicks, bullets and torpedo bras practically scream for.  I never felt bored, but I never felt completely happy about watching Sucker Punch, either.  Even so, there are far less entertaining ways to spend this weekend than putting your mind on snooze and enjoying whichever of Sucker Punch’s abundant scenery you choose.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 23rd, 2011



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