Watching “Sucker Punch” is like watching some creepy old dude’s rape fantasy masquerading as a female empowerment story for young women. Apparently all teenage-looking girls need to do to transcend sexual assault is to do a seductive (read awkward) dance to hypnotize their would-be attackers and flee into their imaginations. One of the five female leads is almost raped every few minutes. People are going to describe “Sucker Punch” with words like “hot”, “sexy”, and “sensual”, but more accurate words are gross and skeevy, not to mention painfully long and repetitious.
“Sucker Punch” begins by raining shit down on Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who does actually look like she’s made out of plastic. Her mother dies, her evil stepfather tries to get at her, but goes after her little sister instead. When the little sister winds up dead, evil stepfather blames it on the already traumatized Baby Doll, and has her committed to a sinister, old school, electro-shock-therapy style mental hospital. There he pays an unscrupulous orderly, Blue (Oscar Isaac), to arrange an unnecessary lobotomy for his wayward stepdaughter.
Inside the asylum, Baby Doll meets fellow inmates Rocket (Jenna Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), who all wear an absurd amount of eye makeup for being mental patients. Through the sheer power of imagination (you assume, since the subject is never dealt with in this level of reality) the hospital is transformed into a burlesque brothel, where the inmates are enslaved prostitutes who dance for wealthy clients. Carla Gugino chews on the scenery as a Polish psychiatrist in the real world, and a Polish madam/choreographer in the alternate universe, and Blue turns up as the mustachioed club owner/pimp.
Baby Doll bonds with Rocket by saving her from being raped by the morbidly obese, possibly mentally handicapped chef, which is really the best basis for a friendship. When Baby Doll is forced to dance, her moves are so entrancing that everyone who lays eyes on her falls under her spell for the duration of a song. Baby Doll not only enraptures her audiences, but she also dances herself into yet another layer of imagination, one where she encounters Wiseman (Scott Glenn), who gives her five things she and her friends must find in order to be free. That’s how subtle “Sucker Punch” is, the wise man is fucking named Wiseman. You may as well have called him Mr. Smartypants, or Tourguide.
You watch this pseudo-steampunk tale unfold as awful covers of great songs play at eardrum-crushing volumes, waiting for the action. Most people aren’t going into “Sucker Punch” in search of a great story. After all, writer/director Zack Snyder is known primarily as a visual stylist (the most engaging characters in any of his films to date are cartoon owls), not a great storyteller. And, admittedly, the action is the only thing “Sucker Punch” has going for it. Here’s the problem: the action scenes are super repetitive. They all begin with Baby Doll swaying uncomfortably to start her dance (Browning never looks at ease once in this entire movie), and distracting the lecherous Johns while her friends steal the tools they need to secure their freedom. Baby Doll’s homies accompany her to the third layer of reality, where they are all super badass and have guns and fight ninjas, zombies, giant Japanese-style statues, fire-breathing dragons, and the orcs from “Lord of the Rings”. Each one of these scenes, and you know exactly how many there will be because they tell you up front, play out almost exactly the same. It looks cool for a while, but you want something interesting to happen, which it never does. The movie takes all of this time getting to the action, only to have that action get boring and tedious.
I know I’m totally going to be accused of hating fun because I don’t like “Sucker Punch,” but it’s like an idiot “Wizard of Oz”, only with more molestation (I’m not kidding, someone is almost raped every few minutes) and an ending that shamelessly apes “Brazil”. It’s one of those movies that is smug and self-important, despite the fact that it is nothing but empty stylistics, visual bells and whistles, and completely devoid of any content at all. “Sucker Punch” basically spends two hours telling you how significant and game changing it is.
The thing I hate most of all, and if you didn’t get this point already, I hate pretty much everything about “Sucker Punch”, is that I know far too many people are going to embrace this as a feminist story full of strong young female characters fighting back against oppression, but it’s not at all (and no, the irony that I am in fact a man is not lost on me). “Sucker Punch” parades itself at that while it is nothing more than an excuse for guys to infantilize young girls in pig tails and check out their underwear. As a film, “Sucker Punch” is not only dumb, it’s creepy and gross.
And why the hell is John Hamm in this movie? He has like three lines and is completely wasted (squandered wasted, not drunk wasted).