Our film critic reviews the best and worst of this week's new releases...
Sucker Punch (12A)*
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens
"DO YOU ever wish you could take something back?" asks a slatternly dressed Jenna Malone in Sucker Punch. At a guess, I'd say the Donnie Darko actress – along with rising stars Abbie Cornish, Emily Browning and High School Musical escapee Vanessa Hudgens – might soon wish they could take back their decision to appear in this nasty, misogynistic, idiotic, spirit-crushingly dull, comic book-style amalgam of Showgirls and Shutter Island. From the unfettered mind of 300/Watchmen director Zack Snyder, it's a work of singular awfulness, revolving around a dubious fantasy in which an asylum inmate known as Baby Doll (Browning) constructs an alternate, sexed-up reality from her subconscious as she awaits an impending lobotomy. What she conjures up is a sleazy burlesque club full of gyrating, scantily clad dancers whose only defence against the perpetual and implicit threat of gang rape appears to be dancing to Bjrk or horrible goth rock while losing themselves in violent escape fantasies of their own, something that Snyder renders as boring montages of video game-esque combat action. His leering camera work further negates any claim that these are in anyway "strong female characters" – unless he seriously thinks a lobotomised lingerie model fits that description.
Killing Bono (15) **
Directe by Nick Hamm
Starring: Ben Barnes, KRYsten Ritter, Robert Sheehan
THIS sort-of-true story feeds off a tenuous U2 connection to give a not-very-interesting tale of a rock'n'roll failure a higher profile. It's based on music critic Neil McCormick's memoir I Was Bono's Doppelganger, and details his self-sabotaging efforts to make it in a band while former classmates Paul Hewson and David Evans rechristened themselves Bono and The Edge and gradually became world-conquering rock stars in U2. Ben Barnes stars as McCormick and plays him as a jealous and deluded wannabe whose catalogue of bad decisions extends to turning down an offer to join the nascent U2 on his brother Ivan's behalf, a secret the film uses to anchor their subsequent fraternal squabbling as they drift through various musical guises and scenes, forever blowing any shot at success. Though pitched for the most part as a knock-around caper, tonally, it's a bit split, never really nailing the period details and veering from moments of sincerity to glib dismissals of its protagonists as a couple of loveable losers destined to be two of life's also-rans. It also fails to come close to making good on its title, treating U2's messianic frontman with nothing short of reverence.
Hop (U) **
Directed by: Tim Hill
Starring: James Marsden, Gary Cole, Russell Brand
THE tradition of celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by – to paraphrase Bill Hicks – telling children that a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs during the night, is transformed into a shoddy excuse for a family film courtesy of Hop. Russell Brand supplies the voice of EB, heir apparent to the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie) – a Santa Claus-esque entity who, despite possessing magical powers that allow his kind to poop sweeties (yes, really), still exploits embittered Spanish-accented worker-chickens to operate the sweatshop-style production lines of his Easter Island-based chocolate factory. The privileged EB, though, just wants to drum in a band, so hightails it to Hollywood where he befriends Fred O'Hare (James Marsden), a pushing-40 layabout full of untapped potential. Mismatched buddy movie convention dictates that this pair will bond over mutual father issues and follow-your-dreams fantasies, but the film is too concerned with providing inappropriate product placement for Playboy to bother with anything more than the most specious story beats, which include EB's father complaining at one point that his son's actions are "threatening 4,000 years of tradition". To paraphrase Hicks again: and we wonder why we're messed up as a race?
Oranges and Sunshine (15)**
Directed by: Jim Loach
Starring: Emily Watson, David Wenham, Hugo Weaving, Tara Morice
JIM Loach has clearly inherited his father Ken's desire to highlight social injustice. Unfortunately this debut effort also shares the clunky small-screen TV-movie feel of his dad's most recent output. On the plus side, it does boast a strong performance from Emily Watson. Set in the mid-1980s, the based-on-fact story casts her as Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker who uncovers a scandalous government scheme that saw children in British care homes systematically deported to Australia without their relatives' knowledge. Investigating one woman's hard-to-believe claims, Margaret discovers a raft of adults with similar stories, all carrying the emotional scars of enforced displacement and, in some cases, abuse. The film teases these out via Margaret's investigation and her subsequent efforts to establish a charitable trust in Australia, something that in addition to keeping her away from her own family, leads to her striking up close relationships with two victims: the delicate, nervous Jack (Hugo Weaving) and the more resolute, harder-to-read Len (David Wenham). Quiet moments of power ensue, but so too do the gently manipulative clichs – the plaintive piano score, the moments of false tension, the one-dimensional bureaucratic bad guys – that plague much issue-driven British cinema.
Passenger Side (15) ***
Directed by: Matt Bissonnette
Starring: Adam Scott, Joel Bissonnette
RISING above the usual Mumblecore preciousness that seems to have infected too much low-key American indie cinema of late, Passenger Side works through its angsty family-drama-oriented premise with a sarky script, a healthy sense of self-awareness and an amusingly deadpan performance from Adam Scott. He plays Michael, a struggling writer guilt-tripped into driving his ex-junkie brother Tobey (Joel Bissonnette) around LA for reasons that become less obscure as the day wears on. That's pretty much it for plot, but director Matt Bissonnette assembles a solid array of supporting crazies to bolster the brothers' odyssey and skilfully drip-feeds information about their fractious relationship in a way that proves unexpectedly poignant.
As they make their way through the less glitzy areas of LA into the scuzzily beautiful Southern California hinterland, the glib banter that masks the complexities of familial love and resentment starts to give way to a more melancholic realisation of what's really important in life. It's a meandering effort, to be sure, but in a good way. The soundtrack choices – Wilco, Dinosaur Jr – also manage to feel organic to the characters rather than try-hard hipster add-ons.