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‘Sucker Punch’ a confusing house-of-horrors story with busty women

‘Sucker Punch’ ★½

Babydoll Emily Browning

Rocket Jena Malone

Blondie Vanessa Hudgens

Sweet Pea Abbie Cornish

High Roller Jon Hamm

Wise Man Scott Glenn

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Zack Synder. Written by Snyder and Steve Shibuya. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language). At local theaters.

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



­­­­Walking out of the screening of “Sucker Punch” the other night, I passed a movie theater mural of famous cinematic images, including Macaulay Culkin’s hands-to-the-face wail in “Home Alone.”

I know how you feel, kid.

Sitting through “Sucker Punch” was the most painful test of endurance since, well, “Drive Angry 3-D” last month. It’s like watching the Pussycat Dolls starring in “The Last Airbender” as filtered through the lens of “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” all of it set to some really banging tunes from artists ranging from Bjork to the Beatles.

Oh, and it has a little bit of a “Wizard of Oz” element as well. And not in a good way. This is a green-screen, mash-up video game with an indecipherable plot; scantily clad, busty women giving flat performances, and the least interesting villains and monsters in recent memory. That it comes Zack Snyder, from the creative force behind “300” and “The Watchmen,” only makes it that much more disappointing.

Here’s the deal, and bear with me because this is the kind of movie where you exit and spend a good 15 minutes trying to decipher the plot before concluding it’s not worth any more effort. Emily Browning plays Babydoll, whose blond hair, heavy makeup and schoolgirl outfit make her look like the third runner-up in a contest to become Hef’s new “Girl Next Door.” After Babydoll’s mother dies, her evil stepfather frames her for the murder of her little sister, and Babydoll is hauled away to Lennox House, a hall of horrors for the (supposedly) criminally insane.

Once Babydoll’s inside, fantasy and reality and alternate reality and alternate fantasy-reality rule the day. Babydoll is introduced to a choreographer-psychotherapist (Carla Gugino, employing a comically exaggerated Polish accent), who will instruct her in the ways of erotic dancing. Turns out Lennox House is a front for a nightclub/whorehouse, and Babydoll has to get her striptease act together in a few short days before the a mysterious figure known as the High Roller shows up to take her virginity. Oh, that timeless dilemma.

Apparently all the inmates at Lennox House are attractive females between the ages of 17 and 25. Soon Babydoll teams up with Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, who is of course raven-haired), Rocket (Jena Ma­lone) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). They’re kind of like the Fox Force Five referenced by Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction,” with fighting skills to equal Uma Thurman’s in “Kill Bill.”

Every time Babydoll closes her eyes and starts dancing, she enters a parallel universe where leather-faced Wise Man (Scott Glenn) guides her on a series of missions to obtain various talismans that will set her free. A map, a knife, fire, things like that. (A coherent script would have been nice.) Only when Babydoll gains possession of all five pieces of the puzzle will she able to obtain her freedom.

With her short skirt swirling about and her midriff exposed, Babydoll slices and dices and shoots her way through a series of battle zones, from a World War I tableau complete with zeppelins to a gunfight with dead German soldiers who have been regenerated (huh?) to a fire-breathing dragon that seems to have flown in from another movie.

In this alternate universe, all of the stripper-hooker-inmates are gifted with seemingly superhuman abilities, so there’s no tension, no risk. They arrive on the scene to sound of pulsating music, do the slow-motion walk thing through the valley of death, conquer the enemy — and then we’re back to the asylum, where everyone applauds wildly for Babydoll’s dancing, which we never see because we’ve been on a ride-along for the battles in the alternate universe.

Rated PG-13, “Sucker Punch” wants us to sympathize with the plight of these oppressed women even as it delights in showcasing their assets. The voiceover speaks of empowerment and finding your inner strength, but the screen is filled with highly digitized images of young women in high heels and short skirts wielding giant guns as they mow down the opposition. By the time Jon Hamm shows up as the High Roller and we learn there’s more to his character than meets the eye, we’re long past the point of trying to figure out which alternate reality is the real reality — and long past the point of caring.

Snyder is an undeniably talented visual artist, but “Sucker Punch” proves a movie can be loud, action-packed and filled with beautiful young women — and still bore you to tears. You could rearrange the reels in this film and show it out of sequence, and I don’t think it would make a difference.



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