Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Emily Browning, Carla Gugino, Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone, Jon Hamm, Jamie Chung, Abbie Cornish, Scott Glenn. (2011, R, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 1, 2011
There's such ample diversion, or at least an intriguing disorientation, in the first 10 minutes or so of Zack Snyder's latest hokum opus – in the loose footing of its befuddling voiceover narration and its lurid exploitation imagery – that it takes a while to come to the solid-ground observation that Sucker Punch is appallingly bad stuff. In those first 10 minutes, we come to understand that a mental institution inmate (Browning), slated for a lobotomy in five days' time, has concocted an elaborate alternate reality as the new girl in a Sixties-era bordello. Here, she's known as Baby Doll, and indeed, Browning seems to have been cast not for any especial emotive skill but rather for her striking resemblance to a bone-china doll. (She also appears on the soundtrack, channeling Metric's Emily Haines and slow-drone-moaning her way through covers like "Sweet Dreams" and "Where Is My Mind?") In theory, the brothel conceit isn't terrible – and bonus points for a cat-eyed Gugino as the Polish-accented madam – but the utterly charmless Sucker Punch then introduces a thudding third reality, in which Baby Doll is counseled by "Wise Man" (Glenn's David Carradine-like sensei) into picking up items (a map, fire, knife, and a key) required for her "journey to freedom." As he lays out the ground rules to Baby Doll and her fellow inmates/dancers/warriors (whichever), Glenn sounds like he's reading aloud from the instruction manual to The Legend of Zelda. It's weirdly appropriate, then, that Snyder (Watchmen, 300) films these endless kung-fu-acrobatic battle scenes like a first-person-shooter game, with slo-mos, speed-ups, a 360-degree camera, and rapid-swivel perspectives. A generous estimate would place Snyder alongside Tarsem Singh (The Fall) and Robert Rodriguez (the Spy Kid franchise): artists whose distinctive, inventive visual styles far outpace their narrative prowess. But look closer, and what do you see? A creatively bankrupt succession of fetishy bromides – steampunk, Asimov, medieval times, and (personal fave!) a woman in a sailor suit, sucking on a lollipop and calling it feminism ’cause she carries a gun, too. Sucker Punch is high price to pay for such tedium.