There is a scene of a dream within a dream in Sucker Punch where heroine Baby Doll is set to dance for her madhouse-burlesque overlords at the Brattleboro Asylum. Everyone in the room reacts like she is a lolita Salome, dancing the seven veils, while Baby Doll herself prepares to dive further into a world of swords and samurai. But wait, the reactions shots occur before she has even started to dance. Why? The filmmakers want to get their reaction-shot-of-awe to re-enforce just how awesome the film is supposed to be, but they do not want to break the 'action-fantasy' metaphor for the erotic dance (itself a stand-in for abuse by the asylum staff) even though it has not actually gone to the CGI-action yet. In an act of trying to have their cake and eat it too, they end up with a seriously baffling edit, a strange lack of continuity in their visual storytelling method, and an undercutting of any form of logic or coherence. We are left with a forced reaction to nothingness. Try as I might to resist a play on words with the title, the film is exactly what the title describes, a hollow, shallow, empty way to part fools from their entertainment dollars. Call it the nadir of anime and video game influenced cinema, call it Inception for imbeciles, call it, well, a Zack Snyder movie. When the film makes you pine for the originality, narrative depth and story logic of Kurt Wimmer's Ultraviolet. Well, what then?
A group of glamoured up (even in the supposedly 'darker' reality scenes) young women try to break out of their mental-asylum prison before the newest member of the pack, Baby Doll, is scheduled to be lobotomized at the behest of her evil step-father, who had her incarcerated in the first place. A series of small heists (visualized as overly stylized micro-blockbuster vignettes) are accomplished while one or more of their members does erotic dances for the staff and security. Carla Gugino (Sin City, Watchmen) plays the madame and sort of unwitting ally and manages (goofy accent an all) to stand-out only because she has some sort of arc, thin and meaningless as it is. Scott Glenn shows up to give gamer-mission-briefs and spew philosophical bon-mots, oh and to drive a bus, but the inanity of that scene is beyond words. Jenna Malone almost makes something of a thankless role one step shy of giving Sam Neill's 'farm in Montana' speech from The Hunt For Red October. The rest of the girls are mannequins for tight clothes and sparkling eye-shadow until Oscar Isaac either slaps them around or shoots them. Call it post-post-feminism, but nobody involved probably knows what feminism even means. I'm not so sure myself anymore.
In the early going of Sucker Punch, there was a glimmer of promise. With actress Emily Browning singing a cover of Sweet Dreams the film flirts with the idea of being the first fantasy music-video musical (unless you count the equally spastic but infinitely superior Moulin Rouge.) Indeed the film is a collection of re-envisioned pop-megahits full of sound and fury but signifying nothing other than Snyder's musical choices are a tad too on the nose. By the fourth inane video-game cut-scene mission, Snyder has done what bad anime has been doing for years, make action look boring, shapeless, and more or less, consequence free. Remember that old Dragon's Lair arcade staple where you moved the joystick around in an effort essentially to advance chapter-stops on a laserdisc? Now pretend that you are just standing over someones shoulder watching them play the game flawlessly and you have the experience of watching Sucker Punch. Only here you get the added bonus of actresses stumbling with dialogue that is supposed to be meaningful (that is because the film has clumsy gravitas when it should be fun, and a mean-spiritedness when it should be bubblegum.) And a narrative flow that has one character explaining to another (in detail) events that just happened visually. Snyder's problem is one of gloss. He cannot make any of the characters problems matter, because his definition of storytelling is to plug in the occasional line of exposition to remind viewers of better movies with similar plots, so he can go back to his crouched (crotched?) teen-flesh posing with guns. You think he over-glossed his adaptation of Watchmen? Wait until you get a load of this. Sucker Punch is a fanboy wank, a guilty water-closet quickie that spews its CGI jizz on screen while making minimal effort to clean up after itself in its ADD rush to move onto something else. Videogames or Comics or Pop Rocks and Redbull.
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