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'Sucker Punch' all style over substance

Article Published: Mar. 31, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Sucker Punch' all style over substance

Jena Malone, Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish star in 'Sucker Punch.'

So, "Sucker Punch."


At the very least, director Zack Snyder ("300") has a vivid imagination. A two-hour foray into the bizarrely misogynistic fantasies and fetishes buried in his fanboy mind isn't the way to share it.

And they're not buried very well, but rather under a ridiculous layer of live-action anime, gigantic robot samurai, steam-powered German zombies, and abused, scantily clad heroines with names like Baby Doll, Sweet Pea and Amber.

It's remarkable in the basest sense of the word, but Snyder's vision is that of a geeked-out teenager with millions of dollars (and professional filmmaking equipment) at his disposal. Juvenile as it might be, Snyder expertly brings his vision to the screen, but it's all style and very minimal substance.

Shot in that computer-rendered "300" style, "Sucker Punch" is visually captivating, digitally crafted with plenty of eye candy and rich, computer-generated imagery, all set to an adrenaline-pumping soundtrack of reworked classic rock. On this level it succeeds. But the basic levels - story, character, giving two damns - are structurally unsound, causing the picture to nearly cave in on itself, and leaving viewers wishing the cinema would do the same.

Emily Browning ("The Uninvited") is Baby Doll, a young pigtailed beauty whose murderous stepfather (Gerard Plunkett, TV's "Fringe") commits her to an insane asylum to keep hidden a nasty truth.

Knowing her doom is near, Baby Doll retreats into the fantastical depths of her mind, wherein she encounters the Wise Man (Scott Glenn, "W."), who tells her of the path to freedom.

To escape, she'll need to find four objects (a key, map, fire and knife), along with something secret that she'll know when the time is right. She incorporates several of her fellow patients into her thematic fantasies, including Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, "Limitless"), Rocket (Jena Malone, "The Messenger"), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, "High School Musical") and Amber (Jamie Chung, "Sorority Row") - all dressed to the scanty nines in the best Snyder's manga-riddled mind has to offer.

As Baby Doll and company gun down steam-powered World War I zombies, slay fire-breathing dragons and brutally dismantle a legion of cyborgs, they're supposedly acquiring these items in real life - sort of that dream within a dream within a dream scenario, but more like a cartoonish, nubile "Inception" meets the Cliff's Notes version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

In one scene, the Wise Man advises Baby Doll, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," advice Snyder should have taken to heart. The fantasy scenes, which are at the film's heart, stand for nothing, their themes seeming to have been arbitrary chosen simply because they look cool.

There's no subtext whatsoever, no insight, nothing that connects viewers to these cardboard - albeit curvaceous - cutouts that barely serve as characters.

It's not necessarily the actors' faults. They perform decently, considering the material (co-written by Snyder) and their ability to keep a straight face through its laughable dialogue.

There's a point in bad cinema I like to call the "AVP: Alien vs. Predator" Threshold, which involves a scene so utterly absurd it makes me actively mourn for the time lost watching it. That threshold isn't reached very often, but "Sucker Punch" aptly lives up to its tagline: "You will be unprepared."

Let's hope Snyder's upcoming "reboot" of "Superman" doesn't boast the same thing.

"Sucker Punch," rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 24 or visit

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