×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sucker Punch

A crass women's penitentiary picture reconceived for today's manga- and vidgame-savvy crowd.

With:
Babydoll - Emily Browning
Sweet Pea - Abbie Cornish
Rocket - Jena Malone
Blondie - Vanessa Hudgens
Amber - Jamie Chung
Dr. Vera Gorski - Carla Gugino
Blue Jones - Oscar Isaac

The French call it “homage,” but Zack Snyder prefers the term “mash-up,” which is no doubt a more appropriate way to describe the cacophonous, half-digested mass of pop-culture influences that make up “Sucker Punch,” a crass women’s penitentiary picture reconceived for today’s manga- and vidgame-savvy crowd. Misleadingly positioned as female empowerment despite clearly having been hatched as fantasy fodder for 13-year-old guys, this sensory-overload exercise tarts up six actresses in service of various “Heavy Metal”-style scenarios — a setup likely to sucker fanboys while leaving those who crave humanity and good old-fashioned storytelling feeling like cavemen who’ve stumbled into Times Square.

With “Watchmen,” Warners dubbed Snyder a “visionary director,” and here we get to see just what said vision amounts to as the helmer is left to his own devices on his first wholly original project. Although Snyder concocted the setup from scratch, the meticulously storyboarded compositions still feel like frames lifted from a graphic novel, fragmenting the narrative into a sequence of iconic images disconnected enough that the audience must still work to decipher their meaning.

After losing her only two blood relatives in a bad-taste prologue, Emily Browning’s “Babydoll” character (the actress’ “Lemony Snicket” role was a mere warm-up for the unfortunate events ahead here) is committed to Lennox House, an asylum where she’s scheduled to receive a lobotomy in five days’ time. Rather than face harsh reality, Babydoll plunges into her own imagination, upgrading the maximum-security hospital to a high-end bordello where she and her fellow inmates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung, playing nymphets with names like Sweet Pea and Rocket) are forced to dance for an assortment of grotesque men.

Only in Snyder’s mind could this scenario be seen as any less degrading than living in a mental institution, which explains why Babydoll must invent a second fantasy layer where she can escape every time she is called upon to perform an exotic dance. While her call-girl avatar shimmies offscreen for the lecherous warden (Oscar Isaac) and his cronies, including Carla Gugino as a badly Russian-accented madam, we see Babydoll transported into various gonzo vidgame missions, facing off against giant samurai, Nazi zombies, fire-breathing dragons and mechanized robots, while a weathered Scott Glenn serves as her bumper-sticker-quoting sensei/spirit guide.

As dream sequences go, these overloaded and inelegant action scenes, inspired by such fanboy staples as role-playing games, anime, the Frank Miller oeuvre and racy Sorayama-style paintings, are the last thing one might expect from the mind of a traumatized lass, however refreshing it may be to see young actresses going all “Kill Bill” on platoons of bad guys. Like Quentin Tarantino, Snyder is unapologetic about his influences — the trashier the better — though he’s far less skilled in the art of pastiche.

Rather than creating a coherent new narrative from these assorted lowbrow sources, “Sucker Punch” attempts to mash everything into the same CG frame. The environmental effects look great, lending an apocalyptic air to Babydoll’s mini-adventures. But the actresses seem out of place against these backdrops — not on account of their gender, but because costume designer Michael Wilkinson outfits them in demeaning fetish gear, objectifying the ladies much as Snyder did the Spartan hardbodies in “300.”

Browning may be old enough to vote, but she’s been made to look like jailbait with her wide-eyed stare and Sailor Moon-style Japanese schoolgirl uniform. Though most of her stunts are handled by a badly matched digital double, to her credit, Browning does perform three songs on Tyler Bates and Marius de Vries’ raucous classic-rock-cover soundtrack, which may well be the project’s most impressive bit of recycling.

“Sucker Punch” reportedly shed nearly an entire reel’s worth of footage in order to land a PG-13 rating, and even then, the film feels highly inappropriate for young viewers. From the opening scene, young ladies seem to be under constant threat of being raped or murdered by grown men, and cutting around the brutality doesn’t diminish the effect at all. If this is where Snyder’s imagination goes when he’s free to create his own material, maybe he’s better off sticking to adaptations.

Popular on Variety

Sucker Punch

Production: A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Legendary Pictures of a Cruel and Unusual production. Produced by Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder. Executive producers, Thomas Tull, Wesley Coller, Jon Jashni Chris deFaria, Jim Rowe, William Fay. Directed by Zack Snyder. Screenplay, Snyder, Steve Shibuya; story, Synder.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Larry Fong; editor, William Hoy; music, Tyler Bates, Marius de Vries; production designer, Rick Carter; supervising art director, Grant Van Der Slagt; art directors, Patrick Banister, Todd Cherniawsky; set designers, Jay Mitchell, Jim Ramsay, Bryan Sutton, Sheila Haley, Bjorn Ollner, Cheryl Marion, Margot Ready, Allan Galajda; set decorator, Jim Erickson; costume designer, Michael Wilkinson; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), Michael McGee; supervising sound editor, Scott Hecker; re-recording mixers, Chris Jenkins, Frank Montano; special effects coordinator, Joel Whist; special makeup effects, Quantum Creations FX; visual effects supervisors, John "DJ" DesJardin, Guillaume Rocheron, Rainer Gombox, Andrew Congreve Brown, Bryan Hirota; visual effects, MPC, Pixomondo Visual Effects, Animal Logic, Prime Focus, Digiscope; associate producer, Andrew Wertheim; assistant director, Paul Barry; casting, Kristy Carlson, Lora Kennedy. Reviewed at Mann Chinese 6, Los Angeles, March 23, 2011. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 110 MIN.

With: Babydoll - Emily Browning
Sweet Pea - Abbie Cornish
Rocket - Jena Malone
Blondie - Vanessa Hudgens
Amber - Jamie Chung
Dr. Vera Gorski - Carla Gugino
Blue Jones - Oscar IsaacWith: Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn, Cetrone, Gerard Plunkett, Malcolm Scott, Ron Selmour, AC Peterson.

More Film

  • Nina Wu Midi Z Un Certain

    Chinese Indie and Indian Films Dominate Pingyao Festival Lineup

    Chinese indie and Indian films dominate the lineup of the Pingyao International Film Festival. The main selection for the festival’s third edition will include 28 world premieres, organizers revealed on Monday. The event will screen 52 films from 26 countries and territories, with all of them having their China debut. The opening film is set [...]

  • 'Sound of Metal' Review: Riz Ahmed

    Toronto Film Review: 'Sound of Metal'

    “Sound of Metal” is a film with a potent, searing hook. It stars Riz Ahmed, who is such a sensational actor (just watch him in “Jason Bourne” or “Nightcrawler” or “The Sisters Brothers”), as Ruben, a punk-metal drummer, heavy on the tattoos and peroxide, who has been thrashing away as part of a caterwauling noise [...]

  • David Goodman

    WGA West's David Goodman on Agency Strategy: 'We'll Start Meeting as Soon as Possible'

    David Goodman, who was resoundingly re-elected president of the Writers Guild of America West on Monday, said the guild plans to meet with several talent agencies soon in an effort to ease the impasse over packaging fees and affiliated production. “Many agencies had indicated that they wanted to wait to see the results of the [...]

  • Australian Outback

    Legend Media Seeks Trio of West Australia-China Co-Productions (EXCLUSIVE)

    Perth, Australia-based production company Legend Media is preparing a slate of three feature films to be produced with partners in China. The company styles itself as one that recognizes the opportunities for Asian engagement that have fallen to Australia, through geography, trade and culture. The company aims to make use of the bilateral film co-production [...]

  • David Goodman

    David Goodman Re-Elected President of Writers Guild of America West

    David Goodman has been convincingly re-elected to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America West, beating Phyllis Nagy in a bitter contest that became a referendum on the guild’s ongoing battle with talent agents. Goodman received 4,395 votes to Nagy’s 1,282 in an election that yielded record turnout among the WGA [...]

  • Issa Rae Portrait

    Issa Rae Developing Re-Imagining of Crime Thriller 'Set It Off'

    “Insecure” star and co-creator Issa Rae is in early development on a re-imagining of New Line’s crime thriller “Set If Off,” which starred Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica Fox and Kimberly Elise. Rae will produce with plans to star in the project. Syreeta Singleton and Nina Gloster have been hired to pen the script. [...]

  • Thomas Golubic GMS Conference

    Guild of Music Supervisors President: 'The Economics of the Job Don't Work Anymore'

    The Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) hosted its 5th annual “State of Music in Media” conference on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Los Angeles Film School. Featuring a wide array of panel discussions on all manner of issues related to music in film, television and advertising, the confab drew top composers, music supervisors, licensing and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content