March 25, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Not Even For Free


Remember Ken Russell’s movie of The Who’s Tommy?  The scene where Ann-Margret’s nervous breakdown was visualized by her television set vomiting out baked beans, chocolate and similar goo?  Watching Zach Snyder’s SUCKER PUNCH is like having that TV on permanent DVR.


Sucker Punch, which Mitch Metcalf predicts will narrowly win the weekend, combines the worst parts of Snyder’s 300 and Watchmen, being both narratively incoherent and utterly tedious.  The story attempts to exist on 3 different levels.  In the framing scenes, a girl known as Babydoll (Emily Browning) is committed by her evil stepfather to a New England asylum in the late 50s/early 60s, where she is to be lobotomized in 5 days; other inmates include Sweetpea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Cheung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), under the supervision of a doctor (Carla Gugino) and a monstrous orderly (Oscar Isaac).  Other than the opening and closing sequences, though, the bulk of the film takes place in what is purportedly Babydoll’s fantasy of the ward as a nightclub/bordello where Gugino is the madam and Isaac the gangster who owns the joint.  Babydoll, helped by a mystical guide (Scott Glenn), organizes her fellow inmates into an escape.  Meanwhile, there is a third level of reality, as Babydoll’s dances for the lecherous customers distract them from the escape preparations while she imagines the film’s big-ticket fantasy sequences fearuring CG zombies, dragons, robots and assorted monsters.

None of this remotely makes sense as the fantasy of a young woman from that era; it’s like saying Eat Pray Love was all taking place in the mind of an NFL linebacker.  And in all the levels, while Babydoll is briefly identified as being a 20-year old, she’s very deliberately costumed and made-up to look like a 15-year old doing porn, so just whose fantasy are we in?   All of which might have been forgivable if there had been any wit or excitement in the execution–Quentin Tarantino has made a career out of his fetishistic, anachronistic set-pieces (and Sucker Punch owes particular debt to the Kill Bill films)–but Snyder, sharing screenplay credit with Steve Shibuya, proves himself to be virtually the anti-Tarantino, one of the worst writers of dialogue alive.  And although he can certainly construct an arresting image, all his ideas are cribbed:  when he’s not stealing from Tarantino, it’s from Peter Jackson, from Guillermo del Toro, from countless comic books, etc.

Snyder’s been compared to Brian DePalma of the 1970s and 80s, and certainly DePalma was always willing to sacrifice drama and sense for the sake of an image or a virtuoso sequence.  But even in DePalma’s terrible films, there was always a passion underlying the filmmaking, often a sexual kick that was funny and disturbing at the same time.  Snyder just loads on the CG, blasts out-of-era music on the soundtrack, and plays the kind of games with slo-mo and wire stunts that make one almost wish The Matrix had never been made.  In this context, most of the actors are wise not to try very hard, although poor Abbie Cornish, who really can act, attempts to do so here and just looks foolish.

Snyder’s next film will be the Christopher Nolan-produced reboot of Superman, and since Snyder’s approach to comic-book filmmaking thus far is almost exactly the opposite of Nolan’s more realistic and character-driven Batman series, one has to wonder just what the hell they’re thinking.  I guess we’ll find out in 2012.


(SUCKER PUNCH – 109 min. – Warners – Director:  Zach Snyder – Script:  Snyder, Steve Shibuya – Cast:  Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Oscar Isaac, Carla Gugino, Jamie Cheung, Vanessa Hudgens – Wide Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."