Sucker Punch (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
'You control this world," says Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to the young women in a mental institution in Sucker Punch, and within those four words lies this film's greatest virtue and biggest flaw.
The virtue: The statement prompts our heroine, Baby Doll (Emily Browning), to imagine a fantasy world in which she and four friends escape the mental hospital, which leads to a number of elaborate action sequences that are nicely done. The flaw: Baby Doll is never in real peril in these scenes, because it's all in her mind. Of course she's going to topple giants, kill already-dead Germans and slay a dragon without trouble. What fun would it be for her to imagine it any differently?
With nothing really at stake, the film devolves into somewhat of a sexy, meaningless spectacle. The story, scant as it is, doesn't hold together at all.
In the 1960s, Baby Doll is committed to a mental hospital by her greedy and perhaps sexually abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) after her mother and sister die, and soon she learns that things are even worse on the inside. Specifically, a corrupt orderly named Blue (Oscar Isaac) has paid a corrupt doctor (Jon Hamm) to perform a lobotomy on Baby Doll, scheduled to take place in only five days.
Seeking refuge, and inspired by staff psychiatrist Gorski's aforementioned advice, Baby Doll urges four other young girls — the reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), the outspoken Rocket (Jena Malone), the street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and the fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung) — to band together and try to escape their fates.
How does she know what to do? A Wise Man (Scott Glenn) sets her on a mission to find five items, but then ominously adds that the last thing "will be a deep sacrifice, a perfect victory that will set you free."
As each part of the plan is enacted, we venture into Baby Doll's mind for over-the-top fantasy sequences as the girls fight to achieve their objectives. Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) conceived the story, co-wrote it with Steve Shibuya, then produced and directed the film, and it has his visual flair all over it. Specifically, he often uses 270- and 360-degree camera turns to take us from one part of Baby Doll's mind to another, and he purposefully reuses certain set pieces (such as the archway outside the asylum) in levels of fantasy and reality. If nothing else, Snyder can certainly put on a visual feast.
But as good as Snyder is visually, he's just as bad in terms of storytelling. The characters are one-dimensional, and the relationship between the various levels of fantasy and reality is clunky at best. If Snyder ever learns how to tell a story, he could be a truly great filmmaker.
Those only interested in seeing attractive women in skimpy outfits kicking ass will find all they want in Sucker Punch. But those who want to see a movie that's actually good will instead leave just feeling like a sucker.