Review: Sucker Punch Blu-ray

Sucker Punch Blu-raySTUDIO: Warner | DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder | CAST: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn
6/28/11 | PRICE: Blu-ray/DVD combo pack $35.99, DVD $29.98
extended cut, Maximum Movie Mode feature, digital copy (all BD exclusives); four animated shorts, featurette on soundtrack
PG-13/R | 110 min./128 min. | Fantasy action adventure | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/ | English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch is quite an overblown affair. Cool-looking, yes, and filled with moments of well-choreographed action, striking imagery and even a fun performance or two. But it’s simply not entertaining.

There might have been a time when a movie with the highly stylized visual razzle-dazzle of Sucker Punch would have kicked ass at the theaters and then on home entertainment systems. But movies like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City and Snyder’s own 300 are now more than half-a-decade old and audiences need more than just a visual, er, sucker punch. And while those two films had stories to latch on to, even if they were simple ones, Sucker Punch is a disjointed amalgam of elements and story-telling platforms that are as confusing and abrupt as they are unappealing.

Sucker Punch movie scene

Emily Browning leads her peeps in all-out war in Sucker Punch.

By “unappealing,” I’m referring to the general plotline of a young woman named Baby Doll (Emily Browning, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) who’s committed to a foreboding New England asylum following a string of family tragedies prompted by her abusive stepfather. In the Shutter Island-ish institution, Baby Doll pals up with four other slinky, young inmates: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, Limitless), Rocket (Jena Malone, The Ruins), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, Beastly) and Amber (Jamie Chung, Burning Palms).

Not long thereafter, alternative universes kick in (imagined in Baby Doll’s mind), one where the quintet of young ladies are working gals in a high-end bordello and another that finds them toting serious weapons along with their fists and feet of steel as they battle bad guys (including samurai-ish warriors and a dragon) on a World War I-looking landscape.

These alternate scenarios play out like dreams within dreams (Inception, anyone?), but don’t move back and forth and back to each other with any ease or explanation. The splintered narrative approach makes it difficult to hold onto the storylines firmly and everything slooooowwwwsss down, which is hard to fathom in an action-filled fantasy.

And though I’m not quite sure what Snyder is trying to say with these different environments, the implied connection between mental illness, young women, forced prostitution and global war didn’t go down well with me.

The performances by Baby Doll and company are only adequate, though its probably not the actresses’ fault as their characters are best defined by their titillating, leather-and-lace costumes. The most memorable parts are essayed by the “grown-ups,” led by Jon Hamm (TV’s Mad Men), Scott Glenn (Secretariat) and Carla Gugino (Spy Kids), who’s deliciously nasty as a psychiatrist/madam/ballet teacher.

The extended cut of Sucker Puck, a Blu-ray exclusive, adds a hefty 18 more minutes to the film that rasied the PG-13 rating to a solid R. Several of those minutes belong to a fetishy and sort of entertaining musical number that’s presented early on. Additional time is given to the action sequences and some sexier, extended cutaways.

There’s no denying that the visual presentation on the Blu-ray is outstanding. The color palette of Snyder’s computer-generated world leans towards somber grays and silvers, low-register browns and grays, and lots of shadowy blacks — until the pyrotechnics kick in and the numerous explosions, gunshots and fires shine with a comic book-styled iridescence.

Even better is the Master Audio 5.1 audio track, which is truly one of the best I’ve ever heard in a large-scale F/X film. There are a whole lots of rich sounds going on — from thunderstorms to all manner of weapons and explosions to whooshing vehicles to a roaring dragon — and it’s served up with strength and clarity. And that clarity extends to the dialog, which never gets lost on the soundscape.

Leading the supplemental package is the Maximum Movie Mode function, a feature-length “production” on the extended cut that features Snyder appearing in picture-in-picture mode. He’s enthusiastic and lucid as he discusses his film, focusing on the F/X and how he and his team created the film’s look. And Snyder comes fully-loaded with storyboards, interviews with cast and crew, rehearsal footage, stills and more, all of which is seen in picture-in-picture as the movie plays. It’s a well-produced supplemental feature and it’s obvious that a lot of time was spent on it.

If only that knid of time and effort went into the Sucker Punch’s story, pacing and structure…


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.