"SUCKER PUNCH — ★★★★1/2 — Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Scott Glenn, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm; PG-13 (language and thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences); in general release
Ever since "300," Zack Snyder has been the darling of the Warner Bros. lot, left to try his hand at the most famous graphic novel adaptation of all ("Watchmen") and even given free rein on a kids' movie about talking warrior owls from Australia. They've anointed him the savior of the "Superman" franchise.
But with "Sucker Punch" Warners gave him not just free rein, but his own petard. And he hoists himself by it in the most epic miscalculation since the Golden Summer of M. Night Shyamalan. An unerotic, unthrilling erotic thriller in the video-game mold, "Sucker Punch" is "The Last Airbender" with bustiers.
Snyder rounded up five of the most buxom young actresses in the biz, women who give five of the flattest performances ever in a humorless quest fantasy about Pussycat Doll inmates trying to escape from an insane asylum. I'd quote a witty line or two, if the script (co-written by Snyder) had any. I'd mention the emotional peaks if the movie managed one.
"Sucker Punch" is a flatly played, flat-looking exercise in green-screen filmmaking, "Sin City" without the sin. Emily Browning plays a young heiress committed to Lennox House by a hateful, nameless guardian who framed her for the murder of her sister. There, she takes the (striptease) dancing cure of a Polish psychotherapist (Carla Gugino) and joins four other young women in an escape that they plan to carry out in an alternate reality.
Scott Glenn is the "Wise Man" who gives "Baby Doll," as Browning's character is known, the marching orders for her quest. She must obtain five talismans to escape. She has five days to get out before a lobotomy is administered (by Jon Hamm of TV's "Mad Men"). So she enlists Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Amber (Jamie Chung), her fellow dancer/hooker/inmates, to join her.
Every time Baby Doll "dances" her super erotic bump and grind for the paying customers, the five of them turn up in a different battle zone of their imaginations — a World War I battlefield with steam-powered German zombies, Zeppelins and a battle machine straight out of "Robocop," a medieval fortress siege with dragons and an oddly configured WWII bomber. They pull out their samurai swords and Navy Seals machine guns and mow down whoever is in the way of their map, their key, what have you.
These furies in fishnet stockings are neither convincing substitutes for Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill" (plainly an inspiration) nor involving characters. At times, their digitally enhanced battles look like state of the art (circa 2005) video game graphics. Scantily attired, they still aren't sexy. In mortal danger, they still aren't sympathetic.
"If you do not dance," Dr.Vera Gorski (Gugino) purrs in exaggerated Polish-accented English, "you have no purpose." Snyder doesn't let any of his young vixens dance. Or let us see them dance.
The only "Sucker Punch" here is to your wallet if pay non-matinee prices for this. Just be grateful it wasn't in 3-D. Maybe "Superman: Man of Steel" will be Snyder's comeback — if Warners lets him direct it.
"Sucker Punch" is rated PG-13 for language and thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences; running time: 107 minutes.