‘Sucker Punch’ (2011) review: An escape from reality

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‘Sucker Punch’ a mind-blowing display of action

UPDATED – A visually stunning creation, Zack Synder’s newest movie leaves you a littled dazzled, a little confused and a little wanting. A combination of “300,” Moulin Rouge” and “Shutter Island,” “Sucker Punch” is a non-stop digital maelstrom of action merged with scantily-clad women, trainfuls of automatic weapons and sensuality that borders on eroticism. But despite all that, a lackluster script and a hard-to-grasp sense of reality mire what could have a been a very good movie.

After a tragic family accident leaves her at the hands of her cruel stepfather, the porcelain-like Babydoll (Emily Browning, “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”) soon finds herself incarcerated in a gothic-style loony bin (although whether she’s actually crazy is debateable). Wide-eyed and radiating with a virginal innocence, it seems she stands no chance of surviving in the midst of the criminally insane. The hospital then becomes a brothel, one where the head orderly (Oscar Isaac) turns into a sadistic pimp, the chief psychologist (Carla Gugino) into a strict madam and ballet instructor and the locked-up girls into erotic dancers. To compound matters, Babydoll only has five days to escape from these dreary halls before she meets a sinister end at the hands of the High Roller (Jon Hamm). Not one to take it lying down, Babydoll schemes to find a way out. But that’s easier said than done. While her dances are so entrancing the men in the room slip in a testosterone-induced stupor, it’s nearly impossible to engineer an escape; guards and iron bars block every exit. And the last three girls who tried died attempting the feat. So, to find the way home, she delves deep into her own mind, creating a slick, stylish world, full of scenes ranging from samurai epics to science-fiction dreamscapes. Along with her is her friend Rocket (Jena Malone); Rocket’s sister, Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish); the dark-haired Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens); and the timid Amber (Jamie Chung). The battle-ready girls then embark on harrowing missions to obtain the necessary items to break free, combating Nazis, dragons and zombies along the way.

The acting here was a bit hit-and-miss. Browing’s Babydoll, a femme fatale swathed in a deceptive innocence, comes across as feminism incarnate, and Cornish’s Sweat Pea is gritty and true. But the majority of the cast is entirely forgettable and expendable. However, that has less to do with their acting and more to do with the mind-numbingly boring characters they were saddled with. It’s hard to be engaging when your only job is to look sultry.

But hands down, the visuals of this movie will you leave you salivating. It’s simply incredible to watch, and it offers a well-needed respite from the less-than-inspired script. (The dialogue is truly grating at times, with such nuggets as, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”) Admittingly, it can be a bit difficult to keep track of what’s reality and what’s fantasy. Between the hospital, the bordello and the magical worlds, it’s surprisingly easy to get a bit lost. And while Synder tried to tackle a multitude of themes (from the power of the mind to controlling one’s destiny), he rarely completed the job.

When it comes to “Sucker Punch,” the phrase “Living in your own little world” has never been truer. And sometimes, the only reality you know is the one you create. But it really doesn’t matter. Because in the end, you’re the only one who can set you free. All you need to do is find the key.

Three out-of-your-head stars out of five.

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Above, a scene from "Sucker Punch." (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)

Above, a scene from “Sucker Punch.” (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)

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