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Scientists are constantly exploring the wonders of the human brain, particularly the subconscious. One of the discoveries is that in times of extreme trauma the brain can shut down responses to it’s surroundings and can either erase the experience or retreat into an alternate reality. This is one of the main themes of Zack Snyder’s new film SUCKER PUNCH. Unlike his previous movies, this is not a remake ( DAWN OF THE DEAD ) nor an adaptation of a graphic novel ( 300, WATCHMEN ) although much of the imagery here is inspired by other films, TV shows, animation, and comic books. In PUNCH, Synder’s main heroine enters another reality in her mind. And then another reality within that one( similar to the dream levels in INCEPTION ). Once again Snyder uses state of the art effects to create these different worlds.

The film begins after two theatrical curtains lift to reveal a simple bedroom backdrop. Atop the bed, crying, is a young blond woman of 17 or 18 named Baby Doll ( Emily Browning ). A doctor leaves her mother’s bedroom, shaking his head at Baby Doll’s step father. Baby Doll runs to console her kid sister as the sheet is pulled over their mother’s face. Later the step father seethes with anger as he reads the mother’s will. Everything will go to the daughters. Grabbing his bottle of booze, he storms into Baby Doll’s room. Rebuffing his advances, Baby Doll scratches his face, forces him out of her room, and locks the door. Gazing through the keyhole, she sees him lurching toward the locked closet where her kid sister hides. Baby Doll climbs out her bedroom window and scampers across the ledge to the window of the study. Inside she locates the pistol in a desk drawer. Racing down the hallway, she confronts her step father as he kicks in the closet door. She shakily points the gun at him and fires. The bullet whizzes past him and fatally strikes her sister. At the grave site, the stepfather signs the papers committing Baby Doll to a mental institution. After sedating her, they take her into the asylum where the director Blue Jones ( Oscar Isaac ) assures the step father that she will be lobotomized by the visiting doctor who will arrive in five days. Baby Doll is introduced to Dr. Gorski ( Carla Gugino )  who uses the auditorium stage for her therapy sessions. She encourages the inmates to act out their histories. Here Baby Doll’s mind transforms the stage into a nightclub/brothel. The other inmates, Rocket ( Jena Malone ), her sister Sweet Pea ( Abbie Cornish ), Blondie ( Vanessa Hudgins ), and Amber ( Jamie Chung ) are entertainers, Gorski is their choreographer/director/madame and Blue Jones is the club owner/pimp. Jones wants Baby Doll trained and ready for the arrival of the High Roller ( the lobotomist ) in five days. When Gorski instructs her to dance to some music, Baby Doll goes into a trance. Her mind enters a fantasy where she meets the mysterious Wise Man ( Scott Glenn ) . Before using a samurai sword to defeat three hulking shogun warriors, he explains that in order to gain her freedom she will need five things: a map, the key, fire, a knife, and something she will have to discover. She then awakes back on the dance floor. Everyone is astonished at her skills. Later in the dressing room, Baby Doll lays out her plan and tries to unite them as a team. Sweet Pea hesitates, but soon  reluctantly agrees to help. Working together can these ladies gather the items and bust out of the nightclub/bordello before the High Roller arrives? Or should I say- can they escape the hospital before lobotomy day?

The first scenes that set up Baby Doll’s entrance to the mental institution are played out almost as an old silent movie. Snyder uses a dark, greyed down color palette similar to 300. The hospital and the dance hall are both dreary places ( until the gals are entertaining ). The fantasy battle fields are gritty and grimy also. Each time an item is acquired the ladies go into another mission after getting orders from the Wise Man. After Baby Doll’s Asian themed first outing, they are all plunged into a steam punk version of World War I. Later they storm a medieval castle were Orc-like creatures serve a huge fire-breathing dragon and her offspring. Finally they must board a high speed train and stop a pack of faceless androids from detonating a bomb within a futuristic metropolis. These scenarios should be thrilling, but they become terribly repetitive after the first couple. It’s the ladies making impossible leaps while hacking, slashing, and gunning down endless hordes. In the backstage scenes between the mayhem, the woman are saddled with lots of ridiculous, forced dialogue as they alternately argue with and encourage each other.  The characters other than Baby Doll and Sweet Pea are almost interchangeable. Cornish does her best to be the cynical hard case, but her fights with Browning have very little spark. Gugino is saddled with a clunky Polish accent and has little to do besides tapping her cane. Isaac makes Jones a completely hiss-able , irredeemable thug who’s written like a mustache-twirling villain. You may have read that Jon Hamm is in the film. Be warned, Don Draper fans, that his role is almost a cameo. I’ve admired much of Snyder’s work in the past, but the slow motion suddenly becoming fast speed, the wire work, CGI creatures, and swirling, zooming camerawork quickly became tiresome. As the old saying goes, “full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. Still, I’m looking forward to Snyder’s take on the last son of Krypton. We’ll see if he can create characters that are as interesting as his visual imagination. The ending aspires to be a tribute to “girl power”. That deserves to be lauded and explored in something more substantial than this noisy, overdone video game of a movie.

Overall Rating: Three Out of Five Stars

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.


  1. Tyrone Hill

    March 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    SUCK!!!!erpunch. If you want to see scantily clad women, take that IMAX money, Butter popcorn money, Soda, money and candy money….get a stack of one and go to the Hustler’s Club. If you want to see a good psychological drama, set in an insane asylum with great acting, rent “Shutter Island” or wait until it comes on cable.Now if you want to see want to see images of what male comic artists since Frazetta and “Wonder Woman” believe a female hero should be, this is your movie. Yeah there is a crazy house and lobotomy, but these are just trivial things at best in this movie. The mental hallucinations are just a vechicle to take us on fan boy fantasy after fanboy fantasy. Down load Stripperella and watch it while simutaneously watching the above mentioned “Shutter Island” and you will save yourself two hours and fifteen bucks.

  2. Travis Keune

    March 27, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I enjoyed the film. Visually, its amazing, as Snyder’s films always are, but I feel he’s getting a little too comfortable with using his “trademark” slow-mo/bullet-time effects in EVERYTHING he does. I really want to see him do something without that as a crutch. It worked in 300 and WATCHMEN, primarily because it was used sparingly and strategically, adding something to the visual story. However, in SUCKER PUNCH, there’s too much of it and it stands out, much of this due to the broken back-and-forth nature of this film’s narrative structure, jumping in and out, from reality to fantasy, whereas these effects only appear in the fantasy segments. Otherwise, I like the story and the film is helped by a good, throwback, high energy edgy pop soundtrack.

  3. E13

    March 28, 2011 at 6:38 am

    How about a little editing before the reviews go out? Is it the Big Roller or the High Roller? The Wise Man told her what she needed prior to her battle with the three shogun type warriors. Baby Doll was 20. Her step-father wrote this on the paperwork when he checked her in. Baby Doll also did not force her step father out of her room. He changed his mind and locks her in her room and then goes to the little sister’s room. Please people, it’s the little things.

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