Hitting filmgoers where hit hurts most
Director Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” is an interminably dull sexploitation that bills itself as a tale of female empowerment. Snyder’s protagonists, teens played by young actresses, are headlined by Babydoll (Emily Browning), whose stripper-friendly name is drawn from her abbreviated schoolgirl getup of blonde pigtails, a midriff-baring sailor shirt and miniskirt, finished off by thigh-high stockings and stilettos.
For his financial gain, Babydoll’s pervy stepfather locks her away in a dilapidated asylum straight out of “Jane Eyre.” She stares blankly at her keepers, including the enigmatic Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), a siren charged with counseling the many young women victimized by this institution. Gorski’s psychotherapies place the girls on beds located upon a stage. Everyone watches as the doctor prances back and forth, narrating tales of abuse she claims will help the patient to confront her fears.
It isn’t much of a stretch when Babydoll imagines an alternate reality where the Gorski is a madam, training Babydoll and the other girls in the art of seductive dance. A crooked, cruel orderly (Oscar Isaac) all but runs the asylum, so he shows up in Babydoll’s fantasy world as owning the house of ill-repute where she and the other girls work.
Though she appears morose and otherwise passive, Babydoll invites the other girls to join in her escape plan. Agreeing to come along are Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung).
Each time Babydoll performs her dance routine in the fantasy reality where much of the action unfolds, she and the other girls are transported to still another alternate reality that consists of different battlefronts linked only by their gun metal gray palettes and an omnipresent wise man (Scott Glenn) who advises that gaining one’s freedom requires sacrifice. He directs the girls to defeat various adversaries who possess the items necessary for the girls’ escape.
In one battle after another Babydoll and her cohorts defeat Nazi zombies, mammoth Asian monsters, dragons and a speeding train. The girls’ clamber through muddy trenches and exhibit their high-flying martial arts moves while welding guns and swords, wearing less than a dime’s worth of clothing, and stilettos. Some of these heroines die, though each leaves a good-looking corpse – the latter obviously important to Snyder who couldn’t bear to see any of his beautiful creations lose her luster.
The movie is essentially a video game, with its confrontations to obtain items earning the players a level up. The film’s misogynistic sensibility is created by its settings, costumes and abusive characters. It may make the grade with fanboys, but there’s barely enough material here to pad a crutch.
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