SUCKER PUNCH (2008)

4 out of 10

Release Date: 26th April 2008 (DVD premiere)

Director: Malcolm Martin

Cast: Danny John-Jules, Gordon Alexander, Ian Freeman, Jimmy Kent, Lisa Nash, Janet House with Tamer Hassan, Tom Hardy and Antonio Fargas

Writer: Malcolm Martin

Trailer: SUCKER PUNCH

imagesSucker Punch (not to be confused with the American 2010 girl power fantasy directed by Zack Snyder) is a low budget fight film that can be lumped together with Killer Bitch and Underground. It seems that films like these are very close to the true nature of their subjects – illegal bare knuckle fight bouts that take place in the back rooms of gyms, garages and pubs. You half expect that the cast screenings took place in an underground bunker or at a bus stop. I can visualise viewers tip-toeing to the screening clutching a flyer containing the hush hush details of the meet on it (wearing in Tony Curtis beanie hats and tracksuits.)

Sucker Punch claws and punches an extra point or two out of Britpic purely because of a committed leading performance from Danny John-Jules (RED DWARF) as the doomed and exceedingly stupid fighter fixer Ray ‘Harley’ Davidson.  To my knowledge this is his only leading role in a movie to date and although played for weak laughs at times, he carries the film with a charismatic performance and elevates any spoils that are up for grabs (there’s hardly any.) Harley meets drifter Charles (GORDON ALEXANDER – THE GRIND) at an illegal fight and gets him to square off against one of Maitland’s (IAN FREEMAN) goons. Charles has a score to settle against Maitland himself, so he teams up with Harley to put the evil baddie out of business. The trouble is, is that Harley’s a gambling addict and for each step forward they take, his habit puts them four step backwards into even more trouble.

Sounds formulaic right? Well it is, but I enjoyed the story and the fighting, which on this small a  budget is as well filmed and choreographed as you’d expect. It’s not amazing but way better than you’d expect (the first fight is crap and stagey though).  Danny John-Jules carries the whole movie on his experienced back, whilst the rest of the cast are reliably cardboard (some more than others). Worst of the lot is Ian ‘The Machine’ Freeman whose acting would embarrass a porn star.  Somewhere in England a tree stump is laughing at his acting efforts. But there are some funny lines in the script, which is thoroughly unexpected. The reason Sucker Punch works is because its central character (Harley) is a likeable rogue and he draws you in. Unfortunately, what Danny John-Jules has made look effortless is nowhere near achievable for the rest of the cast, some of them look visually constipated. Gordon Alexander has fewer lines and is mainly left to do the fighting, so he’s nowhere near as stretched as he is in Baseline or The Grind – he’s still far from a good actor though. More experienced (but no doubt expensive actors) turn up for a single scene each including: Antonio Fargas (FOXY BROWN) from TV’s Starsky and Hutch who has a very pointless cameo as a local money man who Harley unsuccessfully tries to hustle into bankrolling a fight; Tamer Hassan (THE BUSINESS) shows up too, looking like cinema royalty compared to the rest of Sucker Punch‘s sorry shower of actors; strangest of all is a bit part from Hollywood mega-star Tom Hardy (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) – at the time he was in between working on larger films like Rock-N-Rolla and his break out Bronson.  He already had Black Hawk Down, Star Trek – Nemesis and Layer Cake behind him. I wonder what his story was?

Complaints aside, Sucker Punch was weirdly enjoyable but maybe I’ve been paddling down at the shallow end of the British film industry for too long that I am actually acclimatising to the lack of quality down at these depths. I’ve been mining for British films so long I’ve opened the door to this sub-genre of ‘fight club‘ movies and I feel like there’s no turning back. I’ve got Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman to see next week, which is (I think) one of only two UK financed films released at the cinema this month (Feb 2014). I won’t know what to do, I’ll be expecting Ralph Fiennes to be talking a third the speed of your average English man and doing round house kicks at everyone.

These movies get the grittiness of the fights right, but the acting is crap. Shame really because with a bit of decent acting, this underground action films could actually become quite watchable and popular. It’ll never happen though unless they get Judi Dench and Maggie Smith to team up as bare-knuckle ninjas… (there’s a film idea for you!)

4 out of 10 – Solidly plotted and it has a very likeable lead in Danny John-Jules in a rare leading role. He alone carries the film, but special mention goes to well-presented fight scenes and some spirited cameos. The writers also insist at one point in the story that eating sausages can make you more brainy. Oh yeah, they also try to trick us into thinking that Gordon Alexander‘s modern Ronin’s (masterless samurai) dojo equivalent is a busy Yo Sushi – priceless.

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

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