What would you get if you give a twelve year-old boy a blockbuster budget and free reign to make any kind of movie he wants? I don’t really know, but I suspect it would look a lot like Sucker Punch. The film is a relentless assault of nonsense tied together by video game aesthetics and director Zack Snyder’s penchant for over-explaining his point. It is at best one big adolescent fantasy, which makes enjoyment of the film inversely proportional to age and directly proportional to hormones.
The film takes place in Lennox House, an asylum for troubled young girls. Babydoll (Emily Browning) has just been admitted by her evil stepfather, who has paid off an orderly to make sure that she doesn’t get out of there with her brains intact. With just five days before her lobotomy, Babydoll escapes to a world inside her head and plots with the other girls to escape from the facility.
The script presents a dangerous combination of dumb and overly complicated. The film’s main motif of fantasy worlds mostly serves as a launching pad for an unavoidably immature stab at symbolism. There are several layers to the film’s reality, and none of it adds up. When the layers are unraveled, the audience is left with a plot that just cannot make sense. The story itself is fairly simple, but the film takes a really roundabout way to its conclusion, and the resulting details don’t add up.
The film seems to be aware of this, and compensates with interminable bouts of exposition. The characters all have a real penchant for saying things out loud, and voiceover narration is employed to reiterate every point. The film actually ends with narration explaining the theme, and then repeating it for the benefit of those who weren’t listening. The main appeal of the film lies in its visuals, which benefit from really excellent art direction. The video game aesthetics might not appeal to everyone, but the thought behind them seems solid. But the visuals only go so far, and Snyder’s gimmicky direction and awful music cues tend to draw away from the achievement.
The slow motion gets distracting, because none of the action is particularly cool. The problem is that most of the action is carried out by actresses of have no business holding a gun. The problem is most noticeable with Vanessa Hudgens, who blinks every time she fires a weapon. Lead Emily Browning cuts a striking figure, but there’s a stiffness to her performance that rob scenes of momentum. Of the girls, only Jena Malone is credible as an action star. She alone provides the film’s smartest and most exciting moments, committing to even the silliest of conceits.
In a sense, Sucker Punch is a lot like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. The only real difference is the film’s direct appeal to the y chromosome. But much like the other film, Sucker Punch seems to pander directly to an undemanding, hormonal audience, providing them with all the cheap, nonsensical thrills a big screen can provide. It’s all girls in tight clothes wielding weapons in video game worlds. It might be a good idea to start selling tissues outside the cinema.