A “sucker punch” is defined as “a sudden, surprise blow, especially delivered from behind.” And I really could have used one during a recent screening of Sucker Punch, a movie so superlatively, surreally bad that a painful bruise would have served as a welcome distraction.
Sucker Punch is directed and co-written by Zack Snyder, and shares the super-saturated comic-book look of Snyder’s previous films, 300 and Watchmen. The stylized visuals are admittedly cool, but the novelty wears off fast, leaving the viewer nothing to do but look for the nearest exit.
In the opening sequence, which is nearly silent but for the Eurythmics singing “Sweet Dreams,” a pretty blonde (Emily Browning) learns that her mother has died, leaving her and her younger sister under the care of an obviously lecherous stepfather. The mother’s will reveals that she left everything to her daughters, sending the stepfather into a drunken rage. He locks blondie in her room and proceeds to beat the younger daughter to death. The blonde then climbs out the window, finds a gun and confronts him, only to crumple to the floor as he calls the police. Soon she’s on her way to a mental hospital, dressed in pigtails and pajamas, sporting a faceful of makeup that could be seen from the nosebleed seats at Carnegie Hall.
Stepfather confers with the head orderly (Oscar Isaac) and slips him $2,000 to perform a lobotomy on our heroine (which hardly seems necessary, as she’s already staring blankly ahead, completely docile); meanwhile, she looks out at a theater filled with dirty, angry patients and goes all Inception on us—suddenly, the mental hospital has become a bordello, and she’s being sold into sex slavery. She finally gets a name, too—Babydoll. This is supposed to be her way of saving herself from an unbearable reality, but really it’s just an excuse to have Sucker Punch’s nubile young cast waltz around wearing skimpy leotards and false eyelashes instead of soiled hospital gowns.
Babydoll is a virgin, which means she’s being saved for a client known only as “the High Roller” (Jon Hamm). This distinction does not initially endear her to the other girls, but everything changes when she’s asked by the headmistress, Madame Gorski (Carla Gugino) to show off her dance moves. As Bjork’s “Army of Me” swells, Babydoll enters yet another dream world, one that closely resembles a violent video game. In it, she meets a wise man (Scott Glenn) who gives her a sword, then leaves her to fight a trio of giant Asian warrior droids wearing what looks like a Frederick’s of Hollywood schoolgirl costume. As soon as she’s finished kicking some robot ass, we return to the studio, where Babydoll, drenched in sweat, has just finished what is apparently the greatest erotic dance ever performed.
One scene like this is ludicrous enough, but before the movie ends we’re treated to four more. In each one, Babydoll distracts men with her gyrating while her band of bordello cohorts (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung) collect various tools needed for their escape. Rather than actually watching Babydoll dance, during each performance we’re treated to more video-game fight sequences, involving medieval dragons, terrorist bombs and even World War II Germans!
So, just to recap, the loony bin was too much for Babydoll to take, so she sought mental refuge in a whorehouse. But the stress of hip-thrusting soon became too much to bear, so she decided to create her own dream version of Mortal Kombat. I might have chosen something more relaxing, like a Sandals resort with a swim-up bar, but hey—everyone has their thing.
Sucker Punch is intended to be an epic fantasy about gaining true freedom, but it misses the mark so completely that it literally has no point. It would probably sell as a saucy comic, and 13-year-old boys will no doubt love it if their parents have the poor judgment to buy them tickets. But by the time the lobotomist (Hamm, who incidentally would also appear in my fantasy world, so kudos, Babydoll) finally shows up, you’re praying he’ll do you first, just so that you can forget that any of this ever happened.