Sucker Punch (Warner Bros., PG-13)

Character motivation here isn’t exactly a priority anyway; being able to tell the girls apart by sight is really all you need.


After the moderate-at-best success of Zack Snyder’s last two films, Watchmen and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (speaking in strictly financial terms here), I think the studio brass at Warner Bros. must have point-blank told Snyder to make something more like his breakthrough, 300. That’s what his new film Sucker Punch is—300 with scantily-clad young girls instead of scantily-clad men, with fewer stupid one-liners but a more nonsensical story that plays like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest adapted by a schizophrenic. The end result feels like its sole purpose is to give 13-year olds boners.
The plot is muddled as hell (not hard to follow; muddled), but the gist of it is that after a thoroughly dopey opening sequence where her mother dies and little sister is killed at the hands of her stepfather, our heroine, Baby Doll (A Series of Unfortunate Events’ Emily Browning, more or less all grown up), is sent to a mental hospital and scheduled to get a lobotomy. It turns out the mental hospital is a front for a brothel-type thing where the patients apparently willingly “dance” for clients. (Sucker Punch is rated PG-13—boners, remember?—so I guess they couldn’t be too explicit about this stuff.) Of course Baby Doll has no interest in doing this, so she immediately hatches a plan to break herself and the four girls nearest in proximity out of the hospital. These four other girls are: the controlling and bitchy Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish of Bright Star and Candy), Sweet Pea’s sister Rocket (Donnie Darko’s Jena Malone) whose main character trait is needing to be protected, the easily manipulated Blondie (a very brunette Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame, who in real life is super cute but here looks like an underage drag queen), and the token Asian girl Amber (Jamie Chung)—who needs characterization if you’re recognizably from a foreign country, right? Character motivation here isn’t exactly a priority anyway; being able to tell the girls apart by sight is really all you need.
Aside from the aforementioned affinity to the style he made popular with 300, Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya seem to be trying to tap into a girl-power theme in the style of of Quentin Tarantino’s recent films like Death Proof or the Kill Bill movies, but it doesn’t exactly work. There’s too much focus on titillation of male audience members here; this might as well have been a women in prison movie. Not to mention that there are more panty shots per fight sequence here than in your average anime.
The fight sequences are important, as they’re what most people will come to this movie for (that or eye candy), and while they more or less exactly follow the 300-with-girls formula, their assimilation into the plot is tenuous at best. The film uses a dumb and obvious fighting-as-dancing metaphor, but they play fast and loose with it—you’ll find yourself wondering why some fights/dances involve supporting characters and some don’t, how the events of the fight correspond with what’s going on in the real world, and what fighting robots has to do with dancing in an insane asylum in the first place.
To be fair, if you expect to like Sucker Punch, you probably will. The formula is fairly solid, despite how much I bristle to it; Men liked 300 for all of the testosterone-y bullshit and women liked it for the half-dressed hunky men. Theoretically women will like Sucker Punch for its girl-power message and boys will like it because pretty young women dress like slutty schoolgirls and fight samurai robots. If you have an education, though, you’re on your own. | Pete Timmermann

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