"Sucker Punch" is absolutely awful. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, sucker that I am.
Nor is this movie trivial. It may be a significant way station in the Hollywood war against meaningful narrative. What that great film auteur Drew Barrymore started with partner-in-crime McG in the first "Charlie's Angels" movie comes to full madcap fruition in this nonstop fantasy of swords and bullets and babes in dance costume.
It isn't daintily terrible or ineptly terrible (a la M. Night Shyamalan's stunningly unwatchable "The Last Airbender"). It is, rather, throbbingly, thrillingly terrible, the sort of movie that knows exactly what it's doing in every insanely awful moment and does it with all the zest and conviction some people put into masterworks.
It's a big, nutty two-hour video game that cries out for a joystick. Or an anthology of rock videos with a cool, revisionist retro soundtrack rightly admired by my learned colleague Jeff Miers.
"Alice in Wonderland With Machine Guns" is how IMDB claims the pitch went to Hollywood moneybags. Or, more accurately, "Wonders In Malice-Land."
It's "Coyote Ugly Meets the Transformers in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." Or "Annie Kills Bill Suddenly Last Summer." Or "High School Musical Goes Star Wars in a Snake Pit."
It's a hoot.
Zack Snyder's first purely original fantasy is amazing to look at in the most ridiculous way. He's best known for "Watchmen" and that startling version of Thermopylae called "300." (Herodotus never saw such stuff.)
"Sucker Punch" is about a teen innocent (Emily Browning) who accidentally kills her little sister just as she's about to be molested by their evil stepfather, who looks like someone who ought to be playing Daddy Warbucks in a road company of "Annie."
Which leads, naturally enough, to her being whisked off to a comic book chamber of horrors called "Lennox House for the Mentally Insane" (the "physically insane" are, no doubt, housed on the next block).
Its presiding shrink, Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino with a WWF version of a Polish accent) has a "theater" there where she engages in "punish therapy" for a whole lot of miscreant beautiful women. The place also seems to double as a bordello for the local bigwigs, but that's all in its fantasy life. I think.
And that's where our incarcerated but plucky heroine dreams of violence and freedom when she's supposedly dancing for the slavering attentions of the men in the vicinity (all of whom are either fat, sloppy pigs, greasy little rodents or muscle-bound brutes).
Her waking dreams are her escapes. So you see her fighting 20-foot Japanese monsters. Or leading her little band of gymnastic female brawlers in stockings against an army of zombie German soldiers. Or using all her skills against a fire-breathing dragon the size of the Washington Monument. All the while she's trying to assemble the perfect ingredients for a jailbreak from this hellhole.
Scott Glenn always seems to be around to represent the slim hope of male virtue. He's the helper who'll do his best to advise them all. He's a fast man with an axiom, this fellow. "Remember ladies," he says. "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." He's likely to have a Fox News show any minute.
I have deliberately made this a lot more coherent as narrative than it is, but I thought you'd appreciate the artificial tidiness. The movie is a chaotic mess of beautiful women, desaturated color, crazy digital fantasies and self-serious tomfoolery. And it is at least 45 minutes too long.
Its place in your affections will depend entirely on a) your experience with Sucker Punch, the video game, and B) whether you can watch it at home in an illicit haze of mind-altering herbs surrounded by friends proficient at wisecracks.
I wish audiences were good enough to always be bored with a bunch of beautiful women in fishnet stockings kicking butt for two hours but, alas, many of us aren't. Let us work on it a little more.
1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Carla Gugino
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for action nastiness and bordello setting
THE LOWDOWN: Abuse victim violently and digitally dreams her way out of an impending lobotomy.