Assaulted by the pounding, monotonous violence and derivative videogame scenarios of Sucker Punch, my hostage eyeballs began to flicker much like those of Babydoll (Emily Browning), the child-woman waif whose degrading travails provide this fantasy with its nonsensical action. (Not for nothing did the Australian-born Browning previously star as Violet Baudelaire in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.) Because of a load of genre melodrama unfurled at the start of the movie, you see, Babydoll has been locked away in an old-timey creepy insane asylum, with unorthodox psychotherapy overseen by Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino, up to her own eyeballs in eye shadow), a distant relative, perhaps, of Cloris Leachman’s Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.
There are other psycho-slut-clad girls sequestered with Babydoll, bruised cuties played by Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung. But it’s Babydoll’s fantasies/psychotic breaks that turn writer-director Zack Snyder on. Snyder, now at work on the newest Superman movie, created a cool remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead in 2004 before getting mired in the fetishistic soulless visual style of 300 and Watchmen. And here, Babydoll’s behind-the-eyelids retreats into convoluted dream states let the filmmaker go wild, loud, fetishistically stylized, and…numbingly dull. Imagining that she and her inmate friends are pay-for-play girls in a brothel run by Madam G and that Babydoll’s specialty is dirty-dancing for special clients, the girl slips into a series of unfortunate altered game-board universes in which she and the other gals fight their way past Nazi ghosts, serpents, anime monsters, bomber pilots, and, you know, the usual 1-D characters. Scott Glenn shows up as a Wise Man who guides the girls-within-the-games. Zack Snyder ought to pay a big sampler’s fee to Quentin Tarantino for the Kill Bill storytelling techniques.
The music screeches, the actors vamp, the knives and weapons and bombs and fireballs fly around the screen. Meanwhile, the well-prepared moviegoer slips into her or his own private fantasy of a world in which movie effects are themselves locked away in an institution for the criminally insane until such time as those effects are really, truly necessary for the story. D