Film Friday: ‘Sucker Punch’ and ‘Hobo With a Shotgun’

by W. Andrew Powell

A scene from Sucker Punch

A scene from Sucker Punch

New arrivals opening in theatres this weekend: Zack Snyder’s dark, grrl-powered actioner, Sucker Punch; the bloody, Canadian genre film, Hobo With A Shotgun; and the kid’s comedy, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules.

Sucker Punch
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac, Carla Gugino, Scott Glenn
Director: Zack Snyder

Rated: 4/10

In an imaginary world, Zack Snyder would only need his amazing imagination to make a concept like Sucker Punch work, but the real world is sadly much more trying, and in this reality Sucker Punch is more about the ‘Suck’ than the ‘Punch’ and that all comes down to Snyder’s misguided, juvenile screenplay.

Set within what appears to be a dark, alternate reality of the 1960s, Sucker Punch stars Lemony Snicket’s Emily Browning as the young, seemingly battered Babydoll. Losing her mother, which leaves her stuck with her evil step-father, Babydoll makes a dangerous advance to protect her younger sister, which gives her captor his chance to have Babydoll locked away for good in a mental institution.

Bribing the man in charge of the facility, which reminded me of Batman’s Arckham Asylum, Babydoll’s step father has the young woman lined up for a quick and dirty lobotomy in five short days unless she can scheme a way out of the terrible mental hospital.

From this point on, Babydoll’s story takes a step sideways into an imagined world where the mental hospital is actually a risque theatre and whorehouse staffed by the mental patients from Babydoll’s real life prison. In this dark fairy tale, the slimy Blue, played by Oscar Isaac, who runs the place, sells his girls to rich locals while making deals for drugs and alcohol, of which we never actually see much of either.

Plotting with those other women, including Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), Babydoll plans the perfect escape, but it will require five objects. Taking yet another step sideways from reality, in a plot device that feels like a mixture of Inception meets the game Killzone, Babydoll enters a third reality where the Wise Man, played by Scott Glenn, tries to prepare her for the coming wave of battles.

As Babydoll and her new friends work to capture each object, the group steps into the video game reality to win their prizes. In one scene, they’re battling undead Nazi soldiers for a map of the asylum, while the next adventure has them fighting a dragon for its fire.

Eventually, the group of women will have to face their greatest challenge, along with their dance instructor Madam Gorski, played by Carla Gugino, or accept their fates as prisoners. As an audience we’re left to wonder though how this story affects what’s really happening outside of Babydoll’s head, or what she could possibly be doing during her dance routines that are always rendered as a battle in the video game-style reality.

Written and directed by Snyder, Sucker Punch is visually arresting and has a kernel of a powerful story, but that kernel never develops into anything really entertaining or powerful. Sucker Punch wants to be a grrl empowerment action-adventure, and it tries really hard, but Snyder’s script just doesn’t have the power, the emotion, or the ingenuity to take that story to a fulfilling beginning, middle, or end. At times I actually felt myself squirming in my seat because the story and dialogue were so painful, especially from a pop-culture director as notable as Snyder.

Wasting his cast, and the good will of his audience, Sucker Punch is a step in the wrong direction for Snyder, which he will hopefully recover from quickly (maybe even in time for his remake of the Superman franchise). Sucker Punch may still make a few bucks at the box office, but I imagine there will be a lot of fans who will regret spending their money on Snyder’s story.

Hobo With A Shotgun
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Gregory Smith, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman
Director: Jason Eisener

Genre filmmaking comes to Canada in a big way with the bloody Hobo With A Shotgun, the first film from writer and director Jason Eisener, which is based on his fake trailer that first ran ahead of the double-bill, Grindhouse.

In the feature-length version of that concept, Rutger Hauer stars as our hero the hobo, a man who has landed in a fresh town to make a new life for himself, only to find crime running rampant in the streets with crooked cops and a single man, known as The Drake, controlling the entire mess with his two evil brothers.

So, can some lowly hobo actually expect to get anywhere in a town like that? Maybe with a shotgun he can.

Earning a solid reputation at the Sundance Film Festival, Hobo With A Shotgun is a contrary effort to Canada’s usual assortment of dramas and comedies, but it’s a welcome change that might signal a whole other future for our film industry. If you’re a fan of bloody genre films, you really should give the film your vote by going out to see it, especially during the film’s opening weekend.

So far Hobo With A Shotgun has earned an impressive rating of 100% fresh on RottenTomatoes, although that is only from a dozen critics.

“Hobo with a Shotgun takes on genre filmmaking with a vengeance and a toque,” wrote Peter Howell for the Toronto Star. And Devin Faraci of CHUD wrote, “In the tradition of Street Trash and the original Toxic Avenger, Hobo With A Shotgun is a gleefully over the top splatterfest with little redeeming social value.”

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules
Starring: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn, Grayson Russell
Director: David Bowers

Following last year’s hit adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s popular adolescent series of the same name, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules has Greg, played by Zachary Gordon, dealing with seventh grade while both he and his brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), face frustrating changes at home with their parents.

Although Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 has not been receiving great reviews overall, it’s still worth noting that it’s getting better grades than Sucker Punch.

Scott Bowles of USA Today wrote, “None of it amounts to belly-aching laughs, but Rodrick clicks in much the way A Christmas Story became a cult hit, by viewing the world through the eyes of an ordinary kid.”

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