Sucker Punch

Zack Snyder made his name directing faithful, frame-by-frame adaptations of the popular graphic novels Frank Miller’s 300 and Alan Moore’s Watchmen, but he’s got nobody else to blame for the farrago of Sucker Punch; his first original screenplay and an unmitigated disaster from start to finish.

Taking his cue from Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Sucker Punch takes place across three different levels of reality. The story opens in the “real world”, sometime in the 1950s, with a twenty year old woman (Emily Browning) witnessing the death of her mother at the hands of her abusive stepfather. When she subsequently tries to shoot him, she is locked away in an all-female asylum where she will undergo a lobotomy at the hands of a corrupt doctor (Jon Hamm) in five days time.

As a way of coping with her terrible fate, the young woman imagines a fantasy world where the grim asylum is transformed into a colourful brothel and she is a burlesque dancer named Baby Doll. In this reality, she befriends the other women, including sisters Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). With them, she conceives of an escape plan that will require stealing five essential objects from under the nose of the brothel manager, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac).

The success or failure of the escape plan rests on Baby Doll’s uncanny ability to hypnotize the brothel patrons with her dazzling dance moves while the other women secure the items required to carry the plot forward; a map, a knife, a cigarette lighter and so on. We, the audience, are not privy to Baby Doll’s distracting dances. Instead, we are transported further into Baby Doll’s fevered imagination, where the five women don lingerie and automatic weapons and fight their way through a succession of violent action sequences, from a World War I battlefield (complete with trenches and pointy-helmeted soldiers) to a dragon-filled castle lifted straight from The Lord of the Rings. The exotic dancers are trained in their gyrations by Dr Gorski (Carla Gugino, affecting an inane Polish accent) while later, in bullet-flinging girl-power mode, they are guided by a craggy-faced sergeant major known as Wise Man and played by an expressionless Scott Glenn.

Even if viewers follow Baby Doll’s lead and try to block out all the bad stuff, Sucker Punch is still difficult to comprehend and impossible to care about. It’s as if Snyder choreographed a series of flashy fight scenes and then attempted to frame a narrative to tie them all together. This he achieves by flicking through his DVD collection, lifting concepts and plot devices from a host of better films, video games, music videos and cartoons. Individually, his scenes have no shape; taken together, they are repetitive and derivative.

Sucker Punch
is a triumph of digital image-making over storytelling and sensation over substance. The characters are shadow puppets, the story is witless and the dialogue is prattling nonsense. Snyder strains to inject drama into proceedings but settles for noise and sparks. The endless set-pieces of slow-motion carnage eventually congeal into an unappealing digital bilge, scored with a tone-deaf soundtrack of pounding rock covers. Snyder’s heavily-armed, skimpily-costumed heroines are supposedly empowered to fight back against their oppressors but as the cast writhe around in their underwear, the nagging question arises: whose fantasy are we watching, exactly?

The only suckers being punched here are those who might pay good money for a ticket to see it. Just be thankful it’s not in 3D.

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