Sucker Punch

 

 

By Jeff farr

“Sucker Punch” is another pummeling experience from Zach Snyder, the man behind “300” (2007) and “Watchmen” (2009). Fast, loud, ultraviolent, and largely incomprehensible, Snyder’s new movie offers its audience an experience akin to full frontal lobotomy.

 

This is, appropriately enough, the very same fate awaiting the film’s tiny yet spunky heroine, Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who is locked away in that same spooky mental institution we have seen a thousand times or more in Hollywood films. (Jon Hamm, completely out of place in this film, has an odd cameo as the doctor ready to perform the operation that will shut up Baby Doll forever.)

 

There is plenty of stylishness in “Sucker Punch” and a load of state-of-the-art special effects, but this film lacks at its core the one thing that can make this sort of fan-boy fantasy at times worth remembering: imagination. This is everything we have seen too many times before slightly and not so slightly realigned, here and there amped up a bit for the sole sake of volume.

 

The full premise of “Sucker Punch” is a little hard to explain, especially given that the film makes no attempt to do so itself. Basically, Baby Doll and some new friends she makes on her journey—all of them, like herself, highly sexualized young women barely past girlhood—fight for their freedom in three realities simultaneously. Please do not ask the following questions: Why are there three realties? How do the three realities relate to one another? Which one of them is really real? Snyder is not intending to make sense of anything for us.

 

Reality 1: Baby Doll is distraught when her mother dies and she and her sister are left alone with their evil stepfather. In trying to protect her sister from Stepdad, Baby Doll accidentally shoots and kills her sister and is subsequently committed to said institution. She is fast tracked, thanks to Stepdad, for the aforementioned lobotomy.

 

Meanwhile, in Reality 2, Baby Doll’s chances seem better, although it is no walk in the park. She is the newbie imprisoned with other sexy women-children, all of them always wearing something skimpy, in an upscale house of ill repute.

 

Baby Doll, after discovering her hidden talent to hypnotize men with erotic dancing (which we never see), becomes the de facto leader of the ladies’ insurrection. She is first pushed to dance, in a disturbing, ridiculous scene, by the budding prostitutes’ dance teacher (Carla Gugino), who insists to this miniature Paris Hilton that “if you don’t dance, you have no purpose.”

 

Reality 3 is where things become hardest to follow. It is nothing but a giant video game, in which Baby Doll and the gang—they all have silly names: Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie—are badass fighters who kill, with a wide variety of weaponry, innumerable stock zombies, dragons, and “Lord of the Rings” rejects. In this reality, the women are under the guidance of a weathered wise man, a most unwise role for veteran Scott Glenn to have taken on. Snyder may have been thinking that Glenn could be David Carradine to Browning’s Uma Thurman, as in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films (2003–04), but the director gives Glenn nothing but idiotic lines throughout.

 

Could this premise have worked? Probably not, but if Snyder had taken his setup seriously and exercised some imagination in connecting the dots in an interesting way, like Christopher Nolan did last year in “Inception,” maybe there would have been something of note here.

 

“Sucker Punch” has other serious defects, as well, starting with a bombastic rock soundtrack that reimagines the songs of classic artists from Jefferson Airplane to the Smiths in Sensurround. The film’s opening sequence—Baby Doll’s unintended murder of her sister—is set to a lousy new version by Browning herself of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which sets the annoying, over-the-top tone for the rest of the film’s numbers.

 

Then there is the incoherent script by Snyder and Steve Shibuya. Besides neglecting to build the premise, Snyder and Shibuya give us a slew of bad lines with which to contend.

 

The film begins and ends with mumbo-jumbo voiceovers about the nature of reality and the assistance of angels. “They’ll shout through demons if they have to,” we are breathlessly informed. OK…angels shouting through demons?

 

Glenn gets the lion’s share of the worst lines, every time he appears on screen dispensing a sad excuse for wisdom to the young ladies. One prime example, unforgivable: “Don’t ever write a check with your mouth that you can’t cash with your ass.”

What is most wrong with this film is its underlying message. This is one of those films that is pretending to be all about the “girl power” but is at the same time saying there are really only two passable paths to female empowerment: violence and sex.

Girls, you can win your freedom only through knives, swords, guns, and bombs or by bewitching your enemies through gyration. Although the theme of young women uniting is also at work in “Sucker Punch,” what mainly comes through is that ladies need to kick some asses and shakes some asses to survive in this world. In the end, pretty old-fashioned stuff.

 

Cast

 

Baby Doll – Emily Browning

Sweet Pea – Abbie Cornish

Rocket – Jena Malone

Blondie – Vanessa Hudgens

Amber – Jamie Chung

Vera Gorski – Carla Gugino

Blue Jones – Oscar Isaac

High Roller / Doctor – Jon Hamm

Wise Man – Scott Glenn

 

Credits

 

A Warner Bros. release.

Directed by Zach Snyder.

Written by Zach Snyder and Steve Shibuya.

Produced by Zach Snyder and Deborah Snyder.

Cinematography, Larry Fong.

Editing, William Hoy.

 

Running time: 120 minutes.