Andy Bockelman: Sleazy actioner ‘Sucker Punch’ has no power behind it
1.5 out of 4 stars
Starring: Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish and Oscar Isaac.
Pop quiz: Which of the following doesn’t belong?
A. Bloodthirsty Spartan warriors. B. Superhero vigilantes with suspicious motives. C. Exotic dancers with overactive imaginations. D. None of the above.
If you answered D, then you clearly haven’t seen how much of a departure the movie “Sucker Punch” is for its director.
Confined to the dismal environment of an insane asylum for young women, a girl known as Babydoll (Emily Browning) is doomed to rot forever thanks to her evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). But, with all hope lost on the surface, she chooses to see things a little differently, namely that her new home is a brothel.
At odds with her caretaker (Oscar Isaac), she withdraws into her own mind, a place where she can seek counsel from an old wise man (Scott Glenn), who lets her know that all she needs to be free are a few sundry items and the nerve to get them.
Seeking the help of her fellow captives (Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Vanessa Hudgens), Babydoll mounts an escape attempt unlike any other.
Having played a disturbed teen in “The Uninvited,” Browning is admittedly a little intriguing as largely nonverbal Babydoll, who lets her samurai sword do the talking as she winds her way through elaborate scenes of make-believe to get the sanctuary she desperately needs.
Malone gives the strongest showing of her comrades as strong-willed Rocket, whose sister Sweet Pea, densely played by Cornish, is much more cautious about what’s at stake.
Isaac is beyond believable as deplorable Blue, whose identity wavers between controlling hospital orderly and possessive pimp. Carla Gugino trots out her best Natasha Fatale impression as ballet instructor Madame Gorski, who encourages the girls to channel their tension into the most sexually uninhibited dancing imaginable, the medium that allows Babydoll to foray into the world of the daydream.
For a figment of someone’s imagination, Glenn isn’t bad as the girls’ mentor, though his character doesn’t really seem to serve much purpose when all he has to do is tell his pupils to blow up everything in sight.
Creating otherworldly places like a dojo, a castle stronghold full of goblins, a futuristic city and a nightmarish twist on World War I is the easy part of director Zack Snyder’s job.
While the visuals look fine, it never once convinces us why we should care about such an amped-up story when there’s no real foundation anywhere.
The maker of “300” and “Watchmen” has made a name for himself with films that are involving albeit gleefully stupid, but the sense of escapism here is lost as we’re guided badly through layer after layer of daydreams, something that wouldn’t be so bad if not the framing that ruins what impact the ultimate conclusion might have had, nullifying the entire plot along the way.
The various adventures the girls go through in their minds flit about like strands of gossamer, a quality that’s just as disappointing about the girls themselves, with actresses far too weak and wispy-looking to be worthy of a second glance.
Plus, Browning’s unseen, trance-inducing striptease — which supposedly rivals that of Salome — is not just lacking in a sense of empowerment — it’s downright exploitative, masquerading as a kind of deluded reclamation of a girl’s right to wear skimpy outfits and show off her goods.
To say that “Sucker Punch” misses the mark is an understatement, as it isn’t even on the right shooting range.
The film’s portrayal of a cesspool institution run by corrupt officials is not supposed to be something like “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or “Girl, Interrupted,” but it seems like only the people in those movies could be crazy enough to like this.
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