Steam-operated zombies, fire-breathing dragons, predatory hospital orderlies and girls in fishnet tights will come screaming at you in a circus of craziness and shooting in Sucker Punch, a strange comic-book-y action movie directed and co-written by Zack Snyder.
The blonde pigtail-wearing probable-teenager Babydoll (Emily Browning) is, with her little sister, crushed by the death of their mother and fearing life with a vicious-looking stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), who has been creepily leering (and probably more) at Babydoll. Angered after finding out their mother left everything to the girls, he heads to Babydoll’s room but then turns and heads toward her younger sister. In an attempt to keep her sister from whatever horrible fate has been befalling her, Babydoll sticks a gun in the stepfather’s face, but it tragically goes off in the wrong direction. The fallout from this night of violence and noir-lighting is that Babydoll is committed to a mental hospital in Brattleboro, Vt., where her stepfather bribes an orderly, Blue (Oscar Isaac), into making sure that she is lobotomized in five days. The “surgery” (really just an ice-pick to the brain) will make sure she is forever docile and unable to testify against her stepfather should the police ever show up looking to hear her sad tale.
It’s about here that the asylum becomes a nightclub/bordello, the patients become dancers/prostitutes, the psychiatrist Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) becomes the Madame and Blue is the big boss, hiring the girls out and saving special ones like Babydoll for the High Roller (Jon Hamm), the doctor who does the lobotomies back in the “real” world. Here, Babydoll meets Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and her sister Rocket (Jena Malone) as well as other dancer/call-girl/inmate-patients Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). Like all the girls at this club, these girls spend their days walking around in outfits that look like the wardrobe from Cabaret exploded in a Victoria’s Secret, with a hint of creepy anime sensibility mixed in (Babydoll wears a sailor-suit/schoolgirl get-up). Babydoll turns out to be particularly good at some kind of sexed-up dance moves — we never see them because when she’s dancing in the nightclub world, inside her head she’s engaged in a battle: the first one is a temple with giant samurai she fights with her sword; the second one is a World War I battlefield full of biplanes, dirigibles and deceased-but-undead German soldiers who are now powered by steam. In the first of these, what, delusions? or levels, like in a video game?, or something, she is given a mission by a grizzled David Carradine stand-in (Scott Glenn). Babydoll must get a map, a knife, fire and a key and one more thing (a mystery of course) and these five things will allow her to escape. And Babydoll, five days away from her meeting with the High Roller, must escape.
At first the girls think she’s crazy but after Babydoll saves Rocket from the lecherous Cook (Malcolm Scott), they decide to go along with her plan: while she thoroughly captivates the men with her sexy-dance, they will sneak the items needed. And, in her head, they participate in the missions — slaying a dragon and fighting off,
I don’t know, Orcs or something to get “fire.”
And so on.
In fish nets and lingerie, naturally.
I saw Sucker Punch on an IMAX screen — the muchest way to see this much-too-much movie. It is a full screen of robots and shooting and German zombies and shooting and 1950s burlesque and shooting and sepia-toned this fading to hyper-pastel-colored that coming back to noir-y blue the other thing. And shooting. Shooting all over the place, all the time. I didn’t actually get to the point where I thought “not more shooting” (I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten to that place in a movie like this) but I was probably the closest I’ve been in a while. There is a kind of white-noise of shooting in this movie, at everything in all directions, in a way that doesn’t connect to any of the things being shot at or doing the shooting. I guess it’s supposed to add, er, somethingness to this movie that is a whole lot of everything but for me it actually pulls the action even further out of reality. Even further than, say, dragons or a giant robot with a bunny face. Let me put it another way — after Sucker Punch, I really appreciate the documentary-like realism of ancient Sparta as depicted in 300.
Sucker Punch has enough plot, CGI and corsets for three girl-power-y action movies. (I don’t know that this is “girl power-y” but you could certainly make three other such Powerpuff-ish, Buffy-like things out of it.) It has so much going on — 1950s-style insane asylum, seedy nightclub, fantasy warrior world — that it makes it hard to concentrate on caring about this movie. In the movie’s final scenes, I felt like I was watching the wrap-up to a B-movie women-in-prison thriller. In the beginning, with its gothy cover of an Annie Lennox song, I felt more like I was watching the kind of stripped-down-and-remade comic movie that Watchmen was. An editor might have helped make Sucker Punch a more coherent thing, an editor and a decision to keep it to just one alternate-reality fantasy world where the action was all metaphor.
Sucker Punch is sort of fascinating without being all that entertaining. In the end, I can’t recommend this movie but I don’t necessarily not-recommend this movie, even though the thought of someday seeing it again makes me tired — sort of like how seeing your kid’s algebra homework makes you think “ugh, this again?” But with shooting.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences and for language. Directed by Zack Snyder and written by Snyder and Steve Shibuya, Sucker Punch is two hours long and distributed by Warner Brothers.