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'Sucker Punch' promises a punch, ends up more like a pinch

March 28, 2011|BY BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Emily Browning portrays Babydoll in a scene from "Sucker Punch."
Associated Press

"Sucker Punch" is one of those movies that likes to think of itself as "challenging" when it is really just needlessly complicated and unfairly confusing.

It is heavily implied that most of the film is a delusion for the main character as she tries to cope with her horrifying reality. The action of the fantasy world is supposed to be symbolic of her real struggles, but there is too much inconsistency and contradiction for the two to be taken seriously as parallels.  The film is like a poorly written fairy tale. We know that we have to suspend our disbelief and the film still betrays our trust.  

The main character is Babydoll (Emily Browning). Her evil stepfather has her committed to an asylum after she accidentally kills her sister (she was trying to stop her stepfather from killing the sister).  She is supposed to be in the care of Dr. Gosrki (Carla Gugino), but her new world is really ruled by a cruel orderly named Blue (Oscar Isaac). The stepfather doesn't want Babydoll talking to the police, so Blue arranges for a lobotomist to come take care of her at the end of the week.  

The film should have given us more time in the asylum. Except for Blue, we never get a feel for any of the characters' personalities or their day-to-day lives in this frightening world. We need this information as points of reference for the inexplicable change of venue that comes next.

 Without warning, the film suddenly takes place in a burlesque club. Babydoll and the other girls are all dancers, Gorski is the choreographer, Blue is the manager and a "High Roller" client is coming to take Babydoll's innocence at the end of the week.  

At least the asylum was scary, the club is just silly. There is no good reason for this to happen to the story except that the girls now get to wear leotards and lingerie instead of dingy uniforms. The worst thing about this development is that the girls are all now innocent prisoners and they spend their days working on their dancing.  But without knowing who they are or what they do at the asylum, we don't know what various elements of the club are supposed to symbolize.  

Don't get too attached to the club either, because the scenery is about to change even more drastically.  As she practices dancing, Babydoll escapes into a world where she can plot an escape without Blue's knowledge. This world can take the form of anything from a Shaolin temple to a railroad on a distant planet. She is mentored in all versions of the world by an old wise man (Scott Glenn) who I'm guessing represents her own courage, undiscovered until now.  

The master plan involves the other girls to retrieving important items while Babydoll dances. For some reason this means that the other girls come into the fantasies with her to accomplish symbolic missions. These fantasy missions comprise the film's action sequences. The girls don a series of sexy outfits to fight armies of ugly monsters, usually in slow-motion. The sequences are visually interesting and the constant shooting might make you forget that the rest of the movie is a total mess.  Still, there has to be a less convoluted way of setting them up.

"Sucker Punch" gives us four good action sequences and then abruptly robs us of what should have been at least one more.  The film's last act is so ill-fitting that I seriously wonder if director Zack Snyder just ran out of money and couldn't give us the ending we deserve.  But then again almost no parts of the movie fit well with any of the other parts.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that I feel like I've been punched, but I definitely feel like a sucker.  

Two stars out of five.

"Sucker Punch" is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language.  Its running time is 115 minutes.  

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