This is what Showgirls would look like if it was directed by an Xbox. It isn’t even campy entertainment. It’s a blitzkrieg of machine-tooled images, devoid of feelings, characters and plot. If people thought movies were in trouble in the 80s (when everything looked like a beer commercial), this is the New Nadir: crap without joy. The whole movie feels like someone’s thumbing your eyeballs. It’s raucous, but without excitement. Even the titillating parts won’t make you sweat. As a trailer, it looked fast and fun and out-of-control. As a movie, it plays like the longest two hours of your life. This is Eat Pray Love, for boys. It should be called Punch Kick Prostitute Yourself. Like Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, it’s not for right-thinking adults.
The actual story is so thin you could use it to slice prosciutto. In the 1950s, a nubile young girl is institutionalised by her father, who’s a bastard. In order to escape, she has to look at a map of the exits, set-off the sprinkler system, and stab a degenerate orderly in the neck. That’s that. Only, because the story is thin enough to slice prosciutto, we don’t watch her steal a map, or stab a degenerate orderly in the neck. Instead, we watch things as she imagines them: with dragons, and zombies, and evil robots snatching at her. She is accompanied on her quest by four other nubile young girls, and a wizard/mentor whom she has never met in the real world. No-one ever explains why a girl from the 1950s has video game fantasies…
And no-one ever explains because these are director Zack Snyder’s fantasies. They have absolutely nothing to do with the girl who’s supposedly imagining them. Therein lies a pretty major flaw with the logic of Sucker Punch; a movie which plays like someone dropped Inception on its head, and then pissed on it. The dream world the characters inhabit is a smorgasbord of bad genre pastiches: dragons chomp on WWII fighter-planes; monstrous samurai attack with machine guns. The heroine dresses like a Japanese school girl (if a male pervert had picked out her wardrobe). And Nothing Matters. There is no drama to this story. The action starts and stops for each new fantasy; and in-between, people pretend like it was the 1950s. No-one says or does anything a human being might actually say or do, and the movie’s “reality” is scarcely dissimilar from the “dream world”. It’s all stark raving baloney.
What this movie needs is a hare-brained smut-peddler at the helm. It needs Paul Verhoeven as director. The trouble with Zack Snyder is that he wants to make a sleazy exploitation movie but he doesn’t have the balls. Paul Verhoeven is a genuinely fevered pervert, who lives for gratuitous nudity. He’s already made his Sucker Punch, except he called it Showgirls (or was it Starship Troopers?). Where Snyder demurs from being outright offensive with his queasy material, Verhoeven would have made Sucker Punch a guilty pleasure. The only point to the movie is to ogle. Its claims of “feminism” are absurd. Verhoeven would have made the movie properly, jaw-droppingly obscene. Snyder just makes it boyish, and vacuous.
In the lead role, Emily Browning is either continuously trying to suggest her character’s lobotomised condition – through her mono-expression and her glassy-eyed stare – or there simply isn’t a character for her to act. My bet’s on the latter, frankly, because none of the girls in Sucker Punch has anything more than a push-up bra to work with. The movie’s approach to characterisation is on a par with its approach to mental illness: both are things the director has heard of, neither is an area of expertise. This wouldn’t matter if Sucker Punch embraced its “women’s prison movie” origins and unleashed its inner-vamp. Instead, everyone acts like a crash test dummy. The girls aren’t butch or femme, or even nymphet; they’re painfully blank.
Even teenage boys deserve better than this. The idea that Sucker Punch steals from genuinely great movies, like Brazil, is insulting. All the hurt and the beauty that careens through Brazil is utterly absent here. Though the movies share the same ending, this is Brazil as directed by a milquetoast. This movie has no heart, no loins, no teeth and no temperature. It gorges on pixels like a famished hard-drive. Its breath is cold. Even sex is alien to Sucker Punch. It dresses these girls up, but it has no human desires. As cinema, it’s sterile. You don’t feel anything as you watch, except the pitter-patter of data entry. It’s Barbarella written in binary code. Sadly, saving kitsch is missing from this mess.
What’s left is optical torture.