"It's content," says Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman of the continuing downward trend at the box office in 2011. What that means is that the movies being churned out by the studios during the first quarter are not connecting with audiences. Fellman denies that the young male demo has departed the multiplex: just wait until Hangover 2, he says, along with all the commercial films coming this summer. Warners will present a show reel of their upcoming product to exhibitors at the new NATO-controlled CinemaCon next week, where Paramount is expected to screen 22 minutes of J.J. Abrams' Super 8, among other reels.
But the studios should really be afraid of their slates of same-looking content. Why would anyone leave the house to see a movie that looks just like something they've already seen before? How to choose between Battle: LA and Skyline, Kick-Ass and Super, or yet another revisit of a Houdini biopic or age-old fairy tale, from Red Riding Hood to Peter Pan?
For better or worse, at least Sucker Punch looks original, even if Zack Snyder gets repetitive as he goes. The guy has ideas, powerful cinematic images in his head that he knows how to execute. I was compelled to check out the movie because even while Snyder's Watchmen was often silly or incomprehensible, it was always watchable, and hallucinogenic images such as a hulking blue Dr. Manhattan walking in slow-motion are unforgettable.
The same is true of Sucker Punch, which starts off strong--I love the premise--and though it loses steam as it veers off track with too-similar action fantasy episodes starring his girl-pal team of provocatively clad babes, the acting is fine (except for mustachioed bad-guy Oscar Isaac, who also chewed the scenery in Robin Hood) and the visuals are splendid. (See this story about Sucker Punch and the fanboys.)
Presumably Warners and Legendary will ride herd on Snyder with a strong script (from David Goyer and Chris Nolan) and casting for his reboot of Superman. Story is not his strong suit. But man, the guy can deliver arresting visuals.
Andrew O'Hehir of Salon is among the critical minority with praise for Sucker Punch's "twisted stupid brilliance." He agrees with me to a degree:
"Sucker Punch" doesn't all work by a long shot, but it confirms my sense that Snyder belongs near the top of a very short list of directors who are trying to reinvent a personal, auteurist vision of cinema at the most commercial, mass-market, attention-disordered end of the spectrum.