Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: Sucker Punch

Review subtitle: Fun, crazy flick, with one major black eye that this review will put some raw meat on to take the swelling down.

One sentence review based on my own imagined dialogue when speaking to the waiter who brought me this movie:

"Very nice, but didn't I order the half-pound sirloin?"

Note: there may be some spoilers in here, depending on your definition of spoilers. I promise not to ruin the ending... except by saying something critical about it that might, actually help you not be as disappointed with it as I was. The ending. Not the movie. Or this review. Anyway...

First of all... should you see this movie? Here's how to decide. Watch the trailer. If you watch the trailer and think, "Sweet. This is something I should see," then you should definitely see it. Unless (and this will come back to haunt us later in the review)...


I was psyched, frankly, when I saw the trailer, because, well... shit. What a great background song for some cool, graphic-novel-esque hyper-violence, eh? It wasn't in the movie. Which helped deliver the stinging blow that, perhaps, this review will help sooth with some words of warning: the ultimate fight scene you are expecting at the end does not show up.

Don't despair! There are lots and lots of fun, antic, dark, disturbing, really well imagined and interestingly filmed bits in this film. A partial list would contain:

  • Insane asylum burlesque shows

  • Clockwork Huns

  • 40-foot tall, Gatling Gun wielding demon samurai

  • Inadvertent sororicide

  • WW2 aircraft-on-dragon violence

  • Ninja chicks on everything violence

  • Naughty schoolgirl uniform ninja chicks on everything violence

  • John Hamm as "The High Roller"

  • John Hamm as "The Lobotomist"

  • Vanessa Hudgens in the latest of a long string of "last role before her first major adult role"

  • Heroes named Baby Doll, Blondie (the raven haired Ms. Hudgens, in a nod to tonsorial irony), Sweet Pea, Rocket and Amber. Yes; it's the Powderpuff Girls Go to Crazy War Teen Style

  • Tomahawk-fu, trench-fu, train-fu, cyborg-fu

  • Ancient Scott Glen wisdom

  • Gratuitous Polish dominatrix

  • Cool 1950's cars

  • Lots of great songs on the soundtrack, including really nice covers of "Sweet Dreams are Made of This," and "Ask Alice.'

See? Plenty of good eatin' on them bones. Like I said... if the trailer appeals to you at all, you should see this. If the trailer leaves you cold, you should avoid it.

If you do think you should see it, though, I expect you will be surprised by some of the depth of darkness and weirdness. I thought, from the previews, that there would be more hi-jinx and less feeling bad about how bad people do bad things to cute girls in short shorts, high heels and fishnet stockings. It's about 60/40 "bad feelings" to "batshit insane violence." I was hoping for more like a 50/50 or even 40/60 the other way split.

If I had to, I would describe this movie as a mash-up of "Brazil," "Sin City," "Girl, Interrupted," and the video game "Shadow of the Colossus." If you read that list and it makes you want to lie down, don't see the movie. If you read it and think, "That sounds perfectly logical," seek help. Then see the movie.

Here's the thing that will help you enjoy it a bit more than I did. As I said above, the fight scene that you are expecting at the end doesn't show up. There are a series of absolutely terrific fights, they are paced nicely through the film, and they build up to what feels like the penultimate battle. After which I knew... KNEW... that the ultimate cutie-pie vs. dude-you-hate-the-most violence would occur soon, and it HAS TO HAPPEN to the awesome, pounding beat of Zep's "Levy Song."

I waited. And there was a moment when... nope. Maybe now, as she's about to... nope. But now! It has to happen now because he's about to...

Nope. [le sigh]

You get your money's worth. And if you liked the visual style of "300" and "Sin City" and the dark, creepy feel of "Brazil," you'll really like this. And the ending isn't bad... it's just 1/4 pound shy of the steak I ordered.

Oh, and the title has nothing to do with the film as far as I can tell. I'm not sure what I thought it might connect to... but it didn't.

This is also not a deep film, though there are some spots where mystery, psycho behavior and general moodiness try to pass for depth.

Final grades:

  • Flick grade: B+ for good, new-fangled, sexy, ass-kicking, visual slickness

  • Film grade: C+ for having the balls to make the story a bit more crunchy than I'd anticipated, but points off for really not understanding the pacing and expectations that were set up. Also points off for some fairly tired dialogue, though Scott Glen tries to save the day with some pith.

Seriously... one more great fight scene at the end, and that would have been an A and a B+. Too bad. Sometimes quantity is an aspect of quality.

PS: I had more fun typing "clockwork Huns" than almost anything I've ever typed in my life. Please note, though, that by "Huns" I mean the pejorative for WW1-era German troops, not the horse-warriors of the Asian steppes. Clockwork Huns of the latter type would make no sense at all.

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