By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Zack Snyder’s his name.
He directed the remake dud, Dawn of the Dead, a 2004 video game disguised as a movie. Also the much better “300,” in 2007, a blood-and-guts, sword-and-sandal epic that stimulates the eyes and ears and ignores the minds and hearts. And the energetic comic book-inspired superhero epic Watchmen, in 2009, admirable and overloaded in about equal measure.
For its protagonist, it’s a vivid dream that provides an escape from a terrifying reality. For the audience, it’s a grating grab bag of titillating nonsense. For a critic, it’s a session with a doodle pad.
It’s Sucker Punch, a voyeuristic fantasy thriller about an orphaned young girl, Babydoll (Emily Browning), who in the 1960s is placed against her will in a cruel, gothic mental institution for women in Vermont called Lennox House by a vicious stepfather who frames her for the murder of her sister.
She copes by retreating inside her fantasies, to an alternative reality in her dreams, Alice in Wonderland-style, where she concocts a plan to help her escape from the facility, where she is being broken in and tutored in performance by Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), within five days — before, that is, she has her scheduled lobotomy by order of her boss, Blue (Oscar Isaac), and at the hands of High Roller (Jon Hamm).
So she urges four other young, sexually exploited inmates-strippers-hookers-dancers to join her quest, band together, and attempt an escape to freedom — which is ultimately what this wild ride is allegedly about — by declaring war on their captors.
Her allies, babes in arms all, are Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung). And, on another plane of reality, they enlist the help of one Wise Man (Scott Glenn).
The question is: just what are they willing to sacrifice in exchange for their freedom? (Also, what are we willing to put up with in the name of entertainment?)
Fantasist Snyder produced the film with his wife, Deborah Snyder, from a screenplay (his first original script) that he co-wrote with Steve Shibuya. That there’s no through-line, nothing to hang onto narratively as Snyder stages one meaningless high-tech sequence after another, is problematic enough. But the script is also, amazingly enough, humorless.
(You mean we’re to take this stuff seriously just because Snyder does? Really?)
Show-offy stylist Snyder, who invites us into his feverish mind whether we want to visit there or not, showcases his evident love of digitally enhanced, over-the-top ultra-violence in super slo-mo.
He’s never been the kind of director who showcases actors in his movies, good or bad. Well, Sucker Punch keeps his squelch-the-thespians record intact. There isn’t a performance in it worth mentioning. It’s as if the cast members were merely employed as props — physically attractive props, true, but props nonethess.
The film operates on several levels at once, with the women being whisked to different war zones of their imaginations as they search for a map, some fire, a knife, and a key (don’t ask).
And the dreamscape houses samurai, zombies, dragons, and robo-killers.
You’re right — it does sound like a video game! A video game within a video game. Imagine that.
On the surface, female empowerment is the subject at hand. Baloney. The way Snyder “explores” the exploitation of women is by, well, exploiting women — or, at least, objectifying them. The hypocritic oath seems to be on display in a scantily-clad-female-centric extravaganza for the male gaze disguised as something else.
Let’s face it — hot babes with big guns is the drawing card here as it trumpets the film’s basic (and we mean basic) appeal.
The ensemble cast of this erotic action flick — as overwhelmingly female as “300” was overwhelmingly male — are treated like so much eye candy in a movie that somehow merited a PG-13 rating.
There’s arresting imagery sprinkled throughout, but it’s as if Snyder were imitating elements of Inception and Kill Bill — which clearly seem like influences — without employing the guiding intelligence behind the dazzling style of those two far superior movies.
So let’s escape from 2 stars out of 4 for a jailbait jamboree, the pointless loony-bin lark, Sucker Punch.
It provides the punch; we provide the suckers.