This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond – “Sucker Punch”

By Pete Hammond

If you disliked the film as much as I did (and three quarters of the nation’s “critics” agree with me according to Rotten Tomatoes) certainly the temptation is there to come up with every possible variation on Sucker Punch’s ill-conceived title. I felt “sucker-punched” after seeing it. It felt about as good as a “punch” in the gut. It “sucked” the life out of me. Or it just plain “sucked” (no Pun(ch) intended).

For a Zack Snyder flick, which can be expected to bring it at least a strong fanboy contingent on opening weekend, its relatively paltry second place finish with an estimated $19 million (which includes a fairly steep 17% Friday to Saturday drop) has to be a disappointment. But from the beginning Warner Bros just didn’t seem to know how to sell this film. The poster and billboard graphics are busy without being compelling and its trailer was oft-putting. I predict a nosedive next weekend as word-of-mouth sinks the reportedly $80 million dollar film’s boxoffice , domestically at least. It received a B- from Cinemascore which surveys audiences outside theatres on a film’s opening night. Since that is the night Sucker Punch would clearly draw its most ardent potential fans the rating is weak but actually better than I was expecting it to get.

This story of an institutionalized girl named BabyDoll who, while waiting to be lobotomized, battles (with the help of other scantily leather-clad inmates) monsters, samurai warriors and Nazis. But this only happens in fantasy sequences which are all set off by interpretative dance movements in her insane asylum’s talent shows. It just doesn’t make much sense but maybe that’s the point. Snyder , who came up with the original screenplay idea , seems only interested in plotting only until he can get to the visuals. But I remember interviewing the great Special Effects wizard , Five time Oscar winner Ken Ralston last year after his movie Alice In Wonderland came out and he said something wise that stuck with me. Special effects without content that aren’t in the service of the story have no place in movies. He says content always comes first, not flashy visuals calling attention to themselves. But in the world of Sucker Punch it’s the effects and numerous action sequences that take precedence over anything resembling a well-written yarn.

I like Zack Snyder. I actually did a Q&A with him last Fall for his first animated film, Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole and found him to be smart, personable, talented and enormously likeable. I also was one of the admirers of that box office and critical disappointment. It got a bum rap from critics. I was a fan of 300 and quoted in its ads. Now that was an audacious and stunner of a movie. Audiences agreed. As for his other graphic novel adaptation, Watchmen, well I found it lots of fun to uh, Watch man. Hopefully Sucker Punch , an idea he has had in his head for many years is now out of his system and he can bring his tremendous visual talents to more deserving material. His next is Warners’ reboot of Superman starring Henry Cavill, Kevin Costner and Amy Adams (just announced by Snyder as Lois Lane today). I have high hopes for this Superman as it also involves the producing and creative visions of Christopher Nolan who I think is the perfect guiding light to Snyder at this crucial point in his career. We have to wait until the end of 2012 for that one though.

Isn’t it ironic then that these gun totin’ take-no-prisoners hotties had their heads handed to them by none other than a Wimpy Kid? Proving you don’t need a lot of special effects and flashy editing to keep a young audience enthralled , 20th Century Fox’s second edition of their film franchise based on the hit lit series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid even surpassed the $22 million opening weekend of the first last year. With an estimated $24 million this sequel made more than its production costs ($21 million) and took number one at the box office over the more-hyped Sucker Punch. Not only that it got an A- Cinemascore rating and doubled ‘Sucker’s’ score at Rotten Tomatoes with 40% freshness. That’s not too bad for a movie that is anything but a critics flick. Actually I laughed a lot during this ‘Wimpy’ even though it’s really just a big screen sitcom, sort of Leave It To Beaver meets Malcolm In The Middle . By focusing on the sibling rivalry between the Wimpy Kid and his older ‘bro the filmmakers get tons of comic mileage I don’t even recall in the first edition which seemed more sweetly nostalgic. This one is slapstick all the way , situation comedy but one that absolutely knows what it’s doing. Bring on Wimpy #3 this time next year!

INDIE PICK OF THE WEEK: Check out Sony Pictures Classics’ Winter In Wartime. This gripping World War II set coming of age drama from the Netherlands was shortlisted by the Motion Picture Academy in the 2009 race for Best Foreign Language Film but inexplicably failed to make it from the final 9 to the final 5 when less deserving films from Peru and Israel did. At any rate the story of a Dutch teen who finds himself drawn by accident into the resistance is suspenseful, enlightening and completely engrossing from start to finish. Made in 2008 SPC is finally giving it an American release and if you can

About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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