‘Sucker Punch’: A Series of Fights, Confrontations, Fights, Arguments, Fights, and Fights

[8 November 2011]

By David Maine

Hoo boy, this is a bad movie. There’s a fine tradition of powerful boxing movies out there—Raging Bull, Rocky, even Million Dollar Baby come to mind, not to mention documentaries like When We Were Kings. But Sucker Punch is a different critter altogether. It’s a poorly written, poorly executed, cliché-ridden, low-budget snoozer that’s a chore to watch. It’s not even so bad it’s good. It’s just… very tired.

It’s also British, which is different from all of the above-mentioned movies, and so interesting in itself for this American viewer—for about 40 seconds. Soon enough, though, all those other shortcomings start making themselves felt.

Gordon Alexander plays Buchinsky, a fighter of sorts, or at least, he strolls around glowering at the world and shadow-boxing as he walks, so we assume he’s a fighter of sorts. Within seconds of the start if this film, it becomes apparent that Buchinsky has had the holy crap beaten out of him at some point a few years ago, and now he’s out for revenge. As plotlines go, this one is thin and more than a little familiar, but don’t sit there expecting more to develop. You’ll be disappointed.

Buchinsky falls in with Harley, a small time fight promoter, hustler and all-around unreliable character, who nonetheless radiates a certain fast-talking charisma. (Danny John-Jules, who plays Harley, is one of the very few bright spots in this movie.) Harley takes Buchinsky under his wing, which is to say, agrees to set up fights for him in exchange for a slice of the winnings, and Buchinsky monosyllabically agrees.

What ensues is a series of fights, confrontations, fights, arguments, fights, and fights. The world of this movie is not that of big-ticket, legitimate boxing, but of small-scale, Ultimate-Fighting-Champion-type brawling—the kind of fights where kicking, biting, eye-gouging and testicle-ramming are not only allowed but encouraged. This milieu allows for a certain unbirdled viciousness in the fight sequences. It also has the advantage of being played out in back alleys and empty rooms—a boon to the producers, who are freed from the need to rent large sets and fill them with costly audience extras.

There’s a fight in a hallway, and a fight in a dressing room, and fight in a nursery (the kind with flowers, not children) that takes place at night—maybe the producers were saving money on lights? I’m sure there are other fights I’m forgetting, and then of course the big climactic fight, which takes place in a room somewhere.

Sometime during the early fights, the audience is introduced to Harley’s arch rival, the thuggishly bald Maitland, who apparently augments his income in his free time by making lesbian porn films. I’m not making this up. One of the porn stars gets ideas about Buchinsky, and if you think that’s the only predictable thing about this development, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention.

It’s tempting to say that this movie is an uninspired load of garbage, but that would be unfair to garbage, ha ha. Many otherwise awful films are energized by a certain over-the-top verve, or an intensity of scenery-chewing by the actors involved, or at least one or two batshit-crazy ideas that elevate an otherwise pedestran affair into something that you know just has to be the reflection of a particular writer or director’s obsession. Sucker Punch is the worst kind of bad movie, though. It lacks any passion at all, even misplaced passion, and is simply a plodding, joyless exercise in connecting the dots with as little imagination as possible.

DVD extras are few, but this is not a tragedy. Amazingly, there is a featurette called “The Making of Sucker Punch”, which seems to be predicated on the idea that viewers would be interested in this. Its 25 minutes (!) are taken up primarily with talking-head interviews of wriiter-director Malcolm Martin and the actors, all of whom discuss why this awful movie you’ve just sat through is actually a brilliant piece of British cinema. There are behind-the-scenes shots of the production, including fight choreography. Some of this might be of casual interest to fight fans or fans of fight movies, but in general the featurette feels like a good deal more information than anyone is likely to want.

That’s Sucker Punch all over: a whole lot more, and yet a great deal less, than most viewers would want.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/150897-sucker-punch/