Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Bob Westal
n top of its many bizarre fantasy action sequences, this wantonly misconceived action-fantasy with quasi-psychological overtones was, according to some sources, shot as a kind of musical. In the current theatrical cut, the numbers have been all but completely removed, but it still resembles a musical. It's not like one I've actually seen, mind you. It's more like the elaborate shows-within-movies that the characters in "42nd Street" and "The Bandwagon" put on: full of wild imagery and containing absolutely no logic or sense.
According to the press materials, "Sucker Punch" is set in 1967, but it actually takes place in the sort of time-bending never-never land that's been standard in ambitious post-modern Hollywood movies since the 1980s. A rock video-style introduction to the tune of a cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" sets the scene. It depicts the tragically bad luck of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), whose name should be a clue. Lashing out at her vile and abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), Ms. Doll accidentally shoots and kills her younger sister (Frederique De Raucourt). She winds up at the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane – it's Arkham Asylum for enormously sexy, 20-ish starlets and established by people who don't own a dictionary. There, Baby Doll meets Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), a vile hospital worker who arranges a lobotomy and blackmails her stepfather while standing inches behind her. Baby Doll is that disempowered.
Still, it's not all sadness, because "Sucker Punch" is really a combination art film, post-psychedelic freak-out, and motivational seminar about the place of fantasy in personal development. This manifests as Baby Doll imagines she is not in an asylum, but a high-end brothel and cabaret where, instead of getting a large portion of her brain sucked out, she will eventually have to meet "the High Roller" (a cameo by Jon Hamm of "Mad Men," naturally). This, we are to understand, will not be good.
In the meantime, under the tutelage of the Russian accented Madam Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), Baby Doll is commanded to dance. When she does, we don't see her perform. Instead, we move with her to yet another level of fantasy in which she and her new asylum/brothel comrades – Jena Malone as the spunky and adorable Rocket, the ever-doubtful Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), and two others played by Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung – embark on a series of wild and extremely loud action fantasies. In each sequence, they are given their instructions by a nonsense-spouting Wise Man (Scott Glenn). Meanwhile, back in brothel cabaret land, they utilize the Wise Man's instructions to plot their escape. The Children's Crusade was better thought out, but there you go.
Screenings for this epic were delayed until nearly the last minute, and Warner Brothers does not appear confident in "Sucker Punch." The chatter seems to be that this may be director Zack Snyder's free play opportunity in return for the massive success of "300." I hope Snyder had fun, because it might be a few decades before he gets another shot. On the other hand, it might not be a total fiscal loss. I'll be shocked if Snyder's opus gets big box office, but, as boring as a lot of it might be for sober people who enjoy stories at the movies, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if young persons in the future happily half-watch "Sucker Punch" while getting their favorite buzz on, grooving on the insane and often inspired imagery and talking over the dull bits.
I would have preferred watching it that way myself. "Sucker Punch" makes it entirely clear that we are seeing fantasies within fantasies, so there is no reason to care about any of it. To make matters worse, Snyder and co-writer/longtime friend Steve Shibuya use their dreams-within-dreams premise as an excuse to abandon internal coherence. Baby Doll is somehow able to enlist the other girls in an insane scavenger hunt based on what has been revealed to her in her personal fantasy. Even in a psychotic vision, they should at least ask why gathering these five items will set them free, but they don't.
It's all about fantasy, don't you see. Just in case we're not sure, Baby Doll and company actually battle orcs in one scenario and enact a lysergic steampunk version of World War I in another. It's like watching Frank Frazetta and 15 other of the best fantasy illustrators of all time animated with a screenplay by a randomly selected 19-year-old who discovered "Kill Bill" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" the same quarter he got a B+ in Jungian psychology. Actually, it's less fun than that. That kid would probably have a better sense of humor.
On the upside, the acting is solid. With classic Hollywood in mind, the performances have a nicely stylized feeling. Carla Gugino and Oscar Isaac, who spends most of the movie in full gangster gear and eyeliner, clearly relish their absurd roles. Isaac emerges as a genuinely compelling and credible young ultra-slimeball, while Gugino is kind of brilliant, offering actual pathos while her voice channels June Foray's Natasha Fatale of "Rocky and Bullwinkle." Her face and posture says, "I'm suffering from enormous guilt" even as her accent says, "I'm plotting to keel mouse and squirrel!" A deleted musical number featuring Gugino and Oscar Isaac performing Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug" partially shown during the end credits is 800 times more fun than anything else here.
Despite its often aggressive stupidity, I don't want to come down too hard on "Sucker Punch." I wouldn't begin to compare Zack Snyder to Stanley Kubrick, but there is something of the spirit of Kubrick's final brilliant mistake, "Eyes Wide Shut," in "Sucker Punch." Snyder and his cast fully commit to his utterly half-assed conception. That commitment makes it worth a casual look for genre obsessives, but only genre obsessives with a large amount of spare time.
Extended Cut Edition Blu-ray Review:
For as hard as “Sucker Punch” bombed at the domestic box office, it’s surprising that Warner Bros. was so willing to give the film a big Blu-ray release. Although there isn’t a whole lot of bonus material save for the always awesome Maximum Movie Mode – an interactive viewing experience hosted by director Zack Snyder that’s filled with scene-specific commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards and more – the three-disc set also includes an extended cut of the film that boasts an additional 17 minutes of footage that diehard Snyder fans will want to check out. Rounding out the set is a quartet of animated prequel shorts that are entirely pointless, a brief featurette on the film’s soundtrack, and a DVD and digital copy of the movie.