Russ Breimeier | posted 3/25/2011 03:28PM
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MPAA rating: PG-13
(for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language)
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
by Warner Bros.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Runtime: 2 hours
Cast: Emily Browning (Baby Doll), Abbie Cornish (Sweet Pea), Jena Malone (Rocket), Vanessa Hudgens (Blondie), Jamie Chung (Amber), Oscar Isaac (Blue Jones), Carla Gugino (Dr. Vera Gorski), Scott Glenn (Wise Man)
Related: Talk About It/Family Corner
The trailers for Sucker Punch make it obvious that this is another movie from director Zack Snyder, who successfully adapted tricky graphic novels like 300 and Watchmen to the big screen. His distinctive comic-book style (filled with slow-motion action and quick-moving cameras) perfectly suited the complex storytelling and imaginative artwork of those two beloved epics. With a similar style, Snyder now brings us an original story that he co-wrote.
He should probably stick to directing.
Sucker Punch begins with the back-story of a 20-year-old woman nicknamed Baby Doll (Emily Browning). Typical of other Snyder movies, it’s a very stylish prologue that quickly sets the stage without any dialogue. Upon the death of her mother, her wicked stepfather attempts to abuse her and her sister, enraged that they are the beneficiaries of their mother’s inheritance. Tragedy ensues and Baby Doll is sent to a mental asylum, scheduled for a lobotomy in five days.
At Lennox House, Baby Doll and other troubled girls are subjected to the unorthodox treatment of Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), performing their emotions and fears onstage like actors. Befriending four other inmates, Baby Doll retreats to her own fantasy world in order to escape the harsh realities of her predicament and devises a plan for her and the others to escape. She learns from an imaginary wise man (Scott Glenn) that she will need five objects to escape: a map, fire, a knife, a key, and some sort of “perfect sacrifice” that only she will be able to provide.
From there, Sucker Punch jumps off the tracks, blurring together fantasy and reality in a way that’s incomprehensible. This movie isn’t simply Dorothy choosing to alternate between Kansas and Oz.
Try to make sense of this: Shortly after Baby Doll arrives, the setting changes, and we begin to see the world from the perspective of one of the other girls. The asylum is now a brothel straight out of Burlesque and the girls are forced to dance sensually for its patrons before turning tricks afterwards. When Baby Doll is asked to perform a dance in rehearsal, she closes her eyes … and suddenly we’re whisked away to her fantasy world, where she’s an unstoppable ninja warrior armed with guns and swords while combating giant samurai warriors, zombies, robots, and dragons.
That pretty much sets the pattern for the movie: planning in the burlesque fantasy, then kicking into the action whenever Baby Doll starts to “dance,” with everyone praising her dancing skills once things are done. But there’s not much direct correlation between these fantasy worlds and reality. In the hospital, we catch glimpses of the four items in Baby Doll’s quest and know she’ll somehow use those in her escape plan. And in one fantasy sequence we briefly see a Nazi-zombie version of Blue (Oscar Isaac of The Nativity), the despicably corrupt asylum orderly taking advantage of the girls he “cares” for. But it’s not as if the samurai or robots represent actual guards or enemies in reality. I’ve no idea what Baby Doll is really doing while she’s dancing. And frankly, I don’t want to know.
Thus the frustration with Sucker Punch: we’ve no idea what’s really going on. There are few touchstones to ground us in the reality of the girls’ situation. But then reality is the most boring part of this movie, mostly depicting Baby Doll and three others squabbling with Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) about whether or not they should escape or stay put. And that’s the film’s other key weakness: everything remains so cold and detached with no strong emotional core to make us care for such two-dimensional characters.
The action scenes are too loud, but kind of fun, mashing together all manner of technology, weaponry, and enemy from history and fiction. (It’s different, I’ll give it that.) Playing like a sci-fi version of Charlie’s Angels, each mission begins with the wise man giving instructions to his team of specialists before they rain chaos on the bad guys.
As with Snyder’s other films, the effects rely heavily on computers and never look realistic, but his hyper-visuals nevertheless immerse you in a world that’s part comic book, part video game. These scenes also become numbing and repetitive, however, and feel more like demonstration footage for a special effects company than cohesive storytelling.