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I might be the only one out there that enjoyed this hallucinogenic, dystopian girl-power flick, but I don’t care.
Director, Zack Snyder, dances between serious ideas and visual splendor, all the while trying not to be the one-hit-wonder who brought us the top-grossing R-rated feature, “300”. The concept might reach too far, but “Sucker Punch” is an action-packed ride, regardless of debates over its finer points.
Robots, dragons, steam-punk zombies, samurai warriors, zeppelins: they’re all here in a video-game-esque storyline set in a mental institution. Confused? Who wouldn’t be.
Our story begins with the death of a mother due to illness and, soon after, the murder of a sister at the hands of an evil stepfather (played by Gerard Plunkett). Framed for the latter incident, our heroine (Emily Browning), is placed in an asylum and scheduled for lobotomization (the time period is somewhere in the 1960s, when they still used such a barbaric procedure).
We never learn her real name, and it doesn’t matter, as she’s deemed Babydoll by the villainous orderly, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac). Following an introduction to the guests and staff, the institution transforms into an erotic dance house. Polish psychiatrist, Dr. Vera Gorse (Carla Gugino), turns into the ladies’ dance instructor, Babydoll’s stepfather becomes a corrupt priest and Blue transforms into the club owner.
Remember how “Inception” made us track the storyline of a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream? Well, “Sucker Punch” tries to live up to its name, making us track elaborate fantasies within fantasies of disturbed ladies who just might’ve had a chance at normalcy if it weren’t for the corrupt men around them. Sexist? Perhaps.
Historically accurate? Close. Just look in a psychology textbook to see how many women were setting the stage for the discipline. Then check out Freud’s views on women. Mental disorders weren’t kind to women 50 years ago.
Though Blue plans to break Babydoll, she vows to escape before her private session with the High Roller (or the lobotomy doctor, played by “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm), and she embarks on an adventure of the mind alongside fellow inmates, Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jenna Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, yep the “High School Musical” star) and Amber (Jamie Chung), as they all battle cerebral monsters in order to escape the evils of reality.
Snyder suffers from a disease commonly found in horror and action films. He thinks he’s got something to say. But what could a Pasadena Art Center College of Design graduate who first directed car commercials and spent the last several years as Warner Bros. golden boy have to say? Not to completely rag the guy, because he knows his special effects, but his dialogue chops are just this side of “Hannah Montana” with better performances.
The beauty of Snyder’s Mona Lisa, “300”, was its simplicity; we had 300 Spartans fighting for two hours to a heavy metal soundtrack, and then…credits.
“Sucker Punch” tries to be more than it really is, an excuse to have lingerie-clad woman don swords, axes, machine guns and much more James Bond gadgetry.
In short, the plotline and ridiculous outfits get in the way of some extraordinary fight scenes. If Snyder could just get back to the three-act basics, he’d be at the top of his game once more (and he better hurry up since he can’t screw up his next project, a “Superman” reboot).
I find myself trapped in a classic dilemma. My external Dr. Jekyll wants to like “Sucker Punch” because of the visual artistry, while my inner Mr. Hyde must tear it part just as every other critic has. But rather than cede to either ego, I’d rather say this: there’s a certain level of watchability to crappy films. Thus, I acknowledge the film’s inherent flaws, and still claim I’d watch it again –– more so than “better” films, like, say, “True Grit”.
I don’t mean to say “Sucker Punch” is a superb film, merely that sometimes I just might be in the mood for a chili dog even though I’m completely aware that filet mignon will always taste better. Sometimes I crave something that might leave me feeling sick. But even with the threat of indigestion nearby — or coping with the aftermath of voluntarily allowing my senses and sense of logic to be sucker punched — the only real conclusion I can offer is simple.
As I lie down on the couch in pain, post-consumption, avoiding the I-told-you-this-would-make-you-queasy gaze of my roommates or significant other,
I would and always will respond with the most cliché of prideful retorts: “Worth it.”
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