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Sucker Punch Visually Stunning, But Meaningless

Sucker Punch
Directed by Zach Snyder
Written by Snyder and Steve Shibuya
Warner Bros., 2011

Zach Snyder has now reached the point where he has a huge amount of detractors, and probably just as many who enjoy his style.  He gave us the wonderful Dawn on the Dead remake, and then unleashed 300, the movie that launched his name out there as a Director We Need to Discuss.  300 got him Watchmen, which underperformed at the box office but has some followers (I have personally grown to appreciate it a little more since it came out).  Last year, Snyder delivered the animated Legend of the Guardians, where he experienced his first real box office dud and critical drubbing.

Sucker Punch continues Snyder’s attraction to graphic-novel-style action, this one actually not based on any previous material.  The trailer for this rocks, with great use of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Silversun Pickups’ “Panic Switch,” but despite the excellent excitement the trailer generates there was always the nagging question: What the hell is this movie about?

A character we will know as Baby Doll (pretty Emily Browning, last seen by most audiences in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events), in the effort to stop an abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), ends up killing her sister.  The stepfather decides to send Baby Doll to a psych ward known as Lennox House, where he greases the director, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) with some under-the-table dealings in order to keep quiet about all the abuse that Baby Doll has probably suffered and will blab about while behind closed doors.  Baby Doll meets her fellow crazies, the unofficial leader Sweet Pea (superhot Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (cute Jena Malone), Blondie (lovely Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (beautiful Jamie Chung).  They are all taught dancing, or something, by Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino, who is also attractive).

Apparently, when Baby Doll dances, she can enter into a fantasy world and kick all sorts of ass.  In her first dance session, she meets the sort-of sensei, Wise Man (Scott Glenn), who tells her she needs to find a few items in order to find freedom.  And then she gets into battle with three huge weapon-wielding behemoths.  At some point, we come back to reality, and everyone apparently has been mesmerized by the dancing Baby Doll does.  Baby Doll tells her new friends what she learned in the fantasy world, and eventually gets everyone on board, with some resistance from Sweet Pea at first, to help her find a map, fire, a knife, and a key.  The fifth one…is a mystery.

We find out that this Lennox House is apparently where hot girls are groomed to be concubines or hookers or something.  They are taught how to please men, so Baby Doll’s dancing becomes attractive to rich people (like the High Roller, played by Jon Hamm).  Every time they need a new item, Baby Doll will dance and mesmerize everyone in the room while the items are located, and every time Baby Doll dances, we enter into her fantasy world where tons of enemies must be defeated and the items located.  This is where I believe there’s a breakdown in story and suspension of disbelief.

Here’s an example.  In the Fire quest, all Amber has to do is pickpocket a rich asshole with a cool lighter.  But in the fantasy world, the girls have to jump off a helicopter into a dragon’s lair, kill a baby dragon that has two stones in its throat, and hope not to wake the mother, which of course they totally do, so there’s a big chase sequence involving a mega-dragon and having to kill it.  If any of these fantasy sequences were particularly exciting or suspenseful, or we as an audience actually felt like there was a chance that real death could occur, this over-dramatic depiction of “The Quest to Steal A Lighter” might be given a pass.  Later we see that death can occur, but some of these tasks seem so simple, I wondered how it got to that point.  I mean, stealing things shouldn’t be so hard, really, especially when you have the advantage of being able to mesmerize your opponent.

Sucker Punch reminds me of Pan’s Labyrinth, where a little girl enters into fantasy land to ultimately thwart evil.  I didn’t much like that film, either, despite its nearly unanimous praise.  It’s not that I think these movies’ premises can’t work, I just think I’d like to know what the rules are and what’s at stake, and the fantasy world should parallel reality enough that I don’t think, “All of that, for this?”

Sucker Punch is a visual treat, but it’s not nearly enough.

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