At the Movies: Sucker Punch

I did not see “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules” because I didn’t see the first Wimpy Kid flick and I have a policy that if I can’t be bothered to check out the first one, I’m not going to bother with the rest of them.

I also didn’t see the latest version of that English Lit classic, “Jane Eyre.” But I will. Someday. As soon as it shows up on cable and The Wife notices it. I feel I’ve paid my dues to Charlotte Bronte. I read the novel in high school and I know I’ve watched at least one Masterpiece Theater version of it. Jane Eyre can wait. After all, how long did she wait for Mr. Rochester?

Now, on to the main event.

Sucker Punch

Director Zack Snyder earned a reputation for having a unique, dynamic visual style through his adaptations of the graphic novels “300” and “Watchmen.” With “Sucker Punch,” he ventures out to tell a story that’s all his own.

He might want to stick with adaptations for a while longer.

The tale told in this action/fantasy/adventure is something of a mess. But it’s intertwined in some spectacular visual effects. It’s cheesy, highly stylized and somewhat dark for a popcorn film. Did I mention it’s something of a mess?

Emily Browning stars as Baby Doll (no, the names don’t get any better from here), a young woman whose mother has recently died, leaving her and her younger sister in the hands of their evil stepfather. In a long, mostly wordless, overly dramatic opening scene the girl is framed for her sister’s death and hauled off to an institution. The doctor will arrive in five days to perform a lobotomy.

Once stepfather leaves, the institute transforms into some kind of brothel where the young girls are prisoners of the cruel Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac). One of the girls’ duties is dancing for the clients and their dance instructor is Vera Gorski  (Carla Gugino, using a laughable — and pointless — Russian accent).

When Baby Doll dances for the first time she finds herself transported to another world where a mystery man (Scott Glenn) gives her instructions: Obtain five objects and you will escape your current circumstance. She wakes from her trance and discovers that everyone around her has been mesmerized by her dance moves.

You know, I feel like I’m losing brain cells just typing this.

Baby Doll announces her plan to escape to her fellow prisoners — Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung).  The girls agree to help her get the objects if she’ll take them with her.

What follows are a series of scenes in which Baby Doll dances for someone to distract them while the girls go after the necessary object. At least that’s what happens in the “real world.” In fantasy world, the ladies wind up in a variety of extreme video game scenarios — fighting steampunk soldiers, orcs, robots and a dragon — in a variety of exotic locales. I don’t think the girls have any training in sword fighting or firing heavy artillery, but they can seriously kick ass in fantasy world.

If the plot synopsis sounded odd to you so far, wait until the ending.

“Sucker Punch” is dumb and violent and exploitative and silly and dark and dumb. The highlights are the action sequences and here’s where Snyder shows off his main skills. If you’ve seen the trailers and like what you see, there’s plenty more of it in the movie. The action scenes are impressive but tend to run long. Snyder uses all the tricks — slow motion, bullet time, shaky cam, freeze frame right before impact — and uses them over and over and over.

“Sucker Punch” borrows its look and feel from “Sin City” and elements from “Brazil,” “The Matrix” and probably a half-dozen video games. It’s an interesting mash-up but doesn’t come together as well as it should.

Did it work for me? Despite its many problems, I was never bored by “Sucker Punch.” I saw this movie at 10 p.m. and never once nodded off, which I cannot say for many a movie I’ve watched during decent hours. I found it compelling in a strange way.






2 responses to “At the Movies: Sucker Punch

  1. And you were so looking forward to this movie. Why is ‘Amber’ the only normal name?

  2. Jonathan Singer

    Actually I’ve seen a lot of those names, including “Baby Doll” as street names for various individuals who end up entwined with the justice system.

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