Director Zach Synder pitched “Sucker Punch” to the studio as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns.” He might have added, “Or maybe the poor man’s “Inception” with less interesting characters.” Whatever the case, it is a visual assault that’ll make your eyeballs dance, but will likely leave the rest of your person wondering what all the fuss is about.
The premise sounds promising. Emily Browning plays Baby Doll, a twenty-year-old wrongfully imprisoned in a mental institution where a sadistic orderly, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), has her scheduled for a lobotomy. As it turns out this medical facility is also facilitating more than just its patients. Cue a fantasy sequence that recasts the hospital as a nightclub, where the inmates are forced to perform and sell their bodies. To cope, Baby Doll creates a violent world of imagination—a fantasy within a fantasy—where she and her fellow inmates / burlesque dancers (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung) are highly skilled warriors on a quest to find five items that will help them secure their escape from the institution / brothel. After battling steampunk soldiers that pop like balloons when they are shot, dragons and massive samurai soldiers the movie (SPOILER) limps along to a “Shutter Island-esque” finale.
Stuck somewhere in the twilight zone between a videogame and a feature film “Sucker Punch” isn’t so much a movie as it is a “technoir” spectacle. Every inch of the screen is designed and art directed from the architectural wonder of Carla Guggino’s hairdo to the wild fantasy sequences. It all looks great, no question and the ain’t-it-cool factor is very high but there’s no heart here. The characters, despite their sad faces and traumatic lives, are more like scantily clad samurai Barbie dolls than living, breathing characters. As a result we don’t care what happens to them.
Visual sensualist Synder tried to make a movie with a deeper meaning—a videogame level sentiment about taking responsibility and knowing when the story is about you and when it isn’t—but the story’s philosophical angle is blunted by his interest in style over substance.
It is essentially a series of extended action sequences held together by some exposition and Browning’s pout but having said that, I expected more from the action scenes. Unlike “Kill Bill,” another grrrl power movie with samurai swords, the action scenes here are all basically the same. Tarantino understood the value of the violence and changed it up. Synder doesn`t.
Also, Jon Hamm fans take note! I cannot imagine why Jon Hamm would take this role. It`s one of those parts that the other characters talk about a great deal but when he finally show up on screen he only has three or four lines. He could have shot this on his lunch break from “Mad Men.”
“Sucker Punch” is the work of a visual storyteller. Now if we could only get Synder to pay as much attention to the plot we wouldn’t feel sucker punched as the end credits roll.