Flick or Skip: Sucker Punch (Opening 25 March 2011)

Sucker Punch opens this Friday and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to see it. I'm a fan of fantasy films and have a fascination with films set in mental asylums. However, that does not mean that this film is for everyone or even worth seeing. That's where an analysis of the newest trailer comes into play.

Here's what we know for sure. Sucker Punch is the first time director Zack Snyder is working with his own original story. All of his previous features have been remakes (Dawn of the Dead), reimaginings (300), or adaptations (Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians). He's also only written one of these screenplays (300) and its arguably his most successful film.

The problem with Snyder's style is that he is a visual director. The action sequences are almost always the most compelling aspect of his films. From the rooftop rescue in Watchmen to the loading of the buses in Dawn of the Dead, Snyder's action set pieces are stylish, thrilling, and compelling. His laser-focus on great visuals often seems to leave his actors lost in the world he creates. It almost seems like Snyder thinks it is the actor's job to sell the screenplay based on their own instincts rather than his job to guide the performances in the right direction.

This acting issue is what concerns me with the trailer to Sucker Punch. The staging of the action and special effects look predictably great. The performances, however, seem a little flat. As Baby Doll, Emily Browning doesn't seem to be asked to do much more than open her eyes and pout. The other girls are seen with the same blank look or screaming like maniacs. If the audience doesn't buy into the struggle of the girls, the film will fail. Some asylum-based films tilt too much towards "crazy" performances; this seems to be listing into emotionless performances.

Here's what gives me hope. If Snyder created the story to fit his strengths as a director, he may have found a way to use the action he's so accomplished at to tell a compelling story. Maybe the trailers are downplaying the physicality of the performances to try to sell the story in as straightforward a manner as possible. We could be dealing with a very inventive action/fantasy film. Or it could be another dry Snyder film that occasionally rises above mediocrity with well-made action sequences.

Should you see it on Friday? I'd say yes if you're a fan of Snyder's style or really hope an original fantasy property can succeed. If not, wait for the reviews. At the very least, don't go running blindly into IMAX with all its ticket premiums in hopes that a bigger screen could save a potentially bad film from itself; no amount of visual panache can save a fantasy film with no real story. Here's hoping the film turns out to be good.