Director Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” is the oddball action-fantasy movie that left me stunned. On the one hand, it’s so bad that it’s an instant 2011 Razzie Award candidate. But on the other hand, it is brilliant. The film is like a combination of “Showgirls,” “Resident Evil” and “Blue Velvet,” but not necessarily in a good way.
I generally try not to read other critic’s reviews before I write my own, but in this case I knew the scathing analyses would be hilarious, so I read a few. They were bad (really bad,) and the criticisms are mostly warranted. However, there’s something else going on with the film which deserves another look–its creativity. Because of this, I split my decision right down the middle and rated the movie two out of four stars. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
Here’s the premise: A young lady named Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning,) has been institutionalized by her stepfather. The hospital plans to lobotomize Baby Doll in five days time. As a means of coping with her situation, she develops an active fantasy life. She imagines that instead of being in a mental hospital, she’s in a strip club where she and all of the other female patients are dancers. Their names are Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung). The girls hatch a plan to escape that involves Baby Doll dancing in a manner that mesmerizes the men who watch, so that the girls can steal objects to aid their escape. But as Baby Doll dances, in her mind, she and the girls are no longer in the strip club; they’re off in a fantasy world fighting giants, German zombies and dragons. Back in the strip club, there’s also Blue Jones and Madam Gorski (Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino.) He’s a misogynistic, mascara-wearing bad-guy-club-owner, and she’s a dance instructor who wears slightly less mascara than he. Then there’s also Scott Glenn as the Wise Man who has many wise sayings up his sleeve like, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Still with me? There’s a bit more to tell, but I’ve given you enough. You get the idea: Wild stuff.
There’s a fair amount of action in the film. I especially liked Baby Doll’s early fight with three giants. But I wanted more. The most surprising thing about “Sucker Punch” is the over-abundance of talking in between the action sequences. Another highlight of the movie is the visual syrupiness of it all. Every scene looks as if it was painted with several coats of paint. There are enough digital effects in the movie to sate my mind for weeks. Snyder has juxtaposed a variety of disparate elements into one film, and I think it’s crazy admirable. The problem is, when you throw everything including the kitchen sink into the mix, you can’t expect it all to make sense. Some have called Snyder an auteur; I believe that overstates the case.
The acting in “Sucker Punch” is okay, given the awful dialogue, the lack of character development and the fact that the most challenging aspect of these roles was swinging a sword while wearing sexy pantyhose and high heels. (I’m not joking about that part; it had to be hard.) Basically, every time a character opens their mouth to say something, you should prepare to do one of four things: giggle, roll your eyes, glaze over from boredom or go to the restroom. It’s so colossally bad that it’s fun.
There has been criticism of how the film treats women. Is “Sucker Punch” sexist? I suspect the filmmakers may say that the female characters are strong, rebelling against their oppressors. That may be true. But it’s hard to not call a movie sexist when the ladies wear lingerie throughout and are victimized pretty much non-stop. The argument might go: “We have to show them being degraded so that the audience understands their plight.” Maybe. I don’t buy it. But I’m not a woman.
In the end, “Sucker Punch” is a spectacle that I personally think is well worth seeing. The problem is, sometimes spectacles can also be stupendous trash. So I can’t guarantee your life will improve after you watch it.
Rating 2 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated PG-13, 109 minutes, Action, Fantasy, Thriller