Wrongfully locked up in a mental institution by her wicked stepfather, Babydoll (Emily Browning) is determined to fight for her freedom. She convinces four other young girls - the outspoken Rocket (Jena Malone), the street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), the fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung) and the reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) - to band together and try to escape their terrible fate at the hands of their captors, Blue (Oscar Isaac), Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) and the High Roller (Jon Hamm). Led by Babydoll, the girls engage in fantastical warfare against everything from samurais to serpents, with a virtual arsenal at their disposal. With the help of a Wise Man (Scott Glenn), their unbelievable journey - if they succeed - will set them free.
Review by Louise Keller:
Unnerving dark themes meshed with kick-ass fantasy are couched in stunning visuals and a hell-on-wheels music soundtrack in this thrilling no holds barred action mash-up from director Zach Snyder. It's about survival and finding a way to cope in dire circumstances. There's a surreal feeling throughout the film, with most of the action taking place in a reality that is akin to a video game. Exhilarating and disturbing all at once, some of the ideas may be Tarantino-esque, while the execution finds its inspiration from the world of music videos and action video games. For all the film's undertones about female empowerment with its gutsy protagonists, dressed to the nines in sexy, skimpy costumes and thick black lashes, there is plenty to eat away at our moral compass. A sucker punch is a devastating blow made without warning.
The story begins in sepia tones where we meet the film's protagonist Babydoll (Emily Browning), under tragic circumstances. Her accidental killing of her sister after her mother's death leads to her committal by her evil stepfather. A lobotomy is about to follow. Suddenly, the dark, dirty reality of the mental institution morphs into a high class brothel in which the girls are dancers and burlesque performers required to impress the waiting high rollers. Carla Gugino is effective as Dr Vera Gorski, the ballet-mistress cum madam (or head psychiatrist), who impresses on her girls that they have all the weapons needed to be transported into a world of their choosing. Oscar Isaac as Blue, keeps the girls on their toes.
Browning is stunning as the vulnerable Babydoll who chooses to escape deep into fantasy in order to face up to her reality. Our journey is through her eyes. Abbie Cornish is also excellent as Sweet Pea, the strongest of the bunch with Jena Malone appealing as Rocket. Searching for a map, fire, a knife and a key are the starting points for the journey to freedom and the adventures include battles in the snow against robotic monsters, a thousand candles and a crumbling Eastern temple, breathtaking combat in the sky, facing a giant fire-breathing dragon and more. Scott Glenn's wise man and guide is present in each adventure.
It's visually extraordinary, crammed with innovation and while the film runs too long, it's a great ride with much to recommend it. Beware of the dark side - there are some twisted morals at play.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Warner Bros logo is imprinted on a dark red theatre curtain - instantly reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain trilogy of films - which are drawn open only to reveal another set of them. It's a visual signal for the fantasy within the reality and the fantasies within the fantasy that we are about to witness. And I use the word reality loosely ...
But Baz Luhrmann's ghost is quickly dispatched in favour of a gothic horror theme as our heroine (Emily Browning) is dragged kicking and screaming into Lennox House, for the Mentally Insane. (What other kind of insane is there?) This is a strange place, a theatre housing the mentally ill (is this satirical?), although it quickly morphs into a large cabaret with bordello décor.
There are distinct Music Hall flourishes in performance and production design, make up and costuming, welded to a retro (40s and 50s) feel as we move through the story. Well, not so much a story as a series of clips inspired by music video styles which sometimes give way to video game-style action. The film has a contempo, mash-up sensibility, filled with sound and fury, images edited with flipper-book energy and a sense of dread, danger, death, dysfunction.
The story telling gets quite complex, but the story and its message are simple enough: when in danger, we all survive by our own imagination. In this case by escaping into it.
The cast delivers what director Zack Snyder wants - which is not always what we expect, since we are moving in fantasy for much of the film. Even the wicked stepfather, who we have to assume is in the reality zone, is hammed up, while John Hamm, as the visiting doctor who performs lobotomies, is not. Aussie actress Abbie Cornish stands out - not for any other reason than she has a different presence to the four other co-leads. It's a strange and mysterious thing ...
When Babydoll (Browning) is made to dance to music on a tape (another retro touch) she flies into her imaginary world. We don't see her dance, but the characters in the film who do, are gobsmacked. Meanwhile, to smack our gob, she is actually fighting all manner of evil entities from giant robots to dragon - in her imagination, of course. Pay attention or you'll lose the plot ...
We get the feeling that Snyder has made all the music videos he has ever wanted to and edited them end to end to put them into this film. There are some echoes of David Lynch, but less intellectually generated, and there are fearsome stunts, both on the ground and airborne.
The four young women who accompany Babydoll on her escape join her in these fantasy fights to the death. This is a clever device and if a studio didn't come up with it, they should have. Make a high voltage action film (don't forget the slo mo sequences) with young women shooting with big guns, executing high end martial arts magic and skilled swordsmanship while wearing skimpy dance costumes and perfect make up. That'll get the chicks in, but the action poster and big stunt content will attract their boyfriends, too.
Sucker Punch is a brave film; it relies on cinematic incongruity and a self belief in its important message, spelt out by a voice over. It's brilliantly imaginative; if nothing else.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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SUCKER PUNCH (M)
CAST: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glen, Richard Celtrone
PRODUCER: Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
SCRIPT: Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Larry Fong
EDITOR: William Hoy
MUSIC: Tyler Bates, Marius De Vries
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Carter
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 7, 2011