Sucker Punch

“Turn off your mind, relax, and float down stream…”

That line from The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” is just about the best advice I could give you as you head into Sucker Punch, the latest from 300 director Zack Snyder. Though you made find it hard to ‘float’ anywhere during this movie, (what with all the shooting, explosions, and mayhem) trust me… you’ll enjoy the flick a lot more if you just let yourself go.

The simple truth is if you’re at all attracted to Sucker Punch because of the trailer, you’ll have a solid two hours of butt-kickin’, head-trippin’, eyeball-meltin’ fun.

Because Suckerpunch is crazy good.

Don’t believe what’s been written by virtually every single movie critic in America, all of whom apparently expect every movie to be Inception or The King’s Speech. Occasionally a movie comes along that is nothing but a visual feast– a full-throttle, slam-bang flick with little redeeming value other than being wicked cool to watch.

Sucker Punch is indeed visually off-the-charts. But wait, there’s more. The story actually is a pretty good yarn, and the action sequences set a new bar that other movies would be lucky to even come close to.

Following the untimely death of her mother, Babydoll (Emily Browning) gets into a fight with her step-dad, during the course of which she accidentally shoots and kills her younger sister. To prevent Babydoll from telling the police about his role in her mother’s death, step-dad ships Babydoll off to be lobotomized at an all-girls’ mental hospital (in Vermont, no less).

Just as the doctor is about to pound the spike into her skull, Babydoll’s previously monochromatic world snaps into color, and she is suddenly working in a brothel (though all the characters and settings from the asylum are the same).

The head of the brothel is Blue (Oscar Isaac), who promises Babydoll as a virginal treat for High Roller (Jon Hamm). She’s hell-bent on escaping the asylum/brothel though, and she enlists the help of four other patients/prostitutes to break out. Through a series of dreamland vignettes that mirror their quests in the ‘real world’, Babydoll and her four fishnet-stockinged henchwomen set off to get the tools they need to escape.

In the dreamland, they’re fighting zombie German troops during World War I, then a fire-breathing dragon, and then a legion of Terminator-like robots. Every step of the way Wise Man (Scott Glenn) is there, mentoring them in their missions, and each is set to a modern-day re-imagined song including, yes, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Throughout the balance of the movie, you’ll also hear similar, excellent, hepped-up versions of “White Rabbit”, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, and “Search and Destroy”, among others.

Browning carries the triple-layered story quite easily, a pig-tailed blondie who can go from wielding a samurai sword to looking like a poor, maligned little girl without even blinking. Her cohorts are played by Abbie Cornish (making up for her under-use in last week’s Limitless), Jena Malone (who, until now, I couldn’t see as anything other than the petulant brat in Julia Roberts’ Stepmom), Vanessa Hudgins (who shows no traces of her High School Musical past), and Jamie Chung (the Real World vet who is quietly making a name for herself in Hollywood). All give their A-game here and completely throw themselves into their parts.

Snyder (who also co-wrote the script from his own story) hasn’t strayed far from his super-stylized 300 and Watchmen, but he does take those visions to a whole new level here. Sometimes you’ll be reminded of Japanese anime, and other times you’ll think you’re watching a music video, but the entire time, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen. The script is a little too ham-fisted occasionally, but thankfully the words are so few and far-between (who has time to talk when you’re battling giant samurai warriors?) that it can be largely forgiven, if not ignored entirely.

The easiest way to think of Sucker Punch is as a head-spinning mashup of Battle: Los Angeles and Moulin Rouge. As long as that sounds like a pretty nifty way to spend a night at the movies, go for it. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, and one last thing (to quote Wise Man): I’m not sure about all this chit-chat that SuckerPunch is empowering to women. It struck me as about as female-empowering as a magazine that features a bikini-clad woman toting an M-16 while straddling a motorcycle. But I’ll leave that up to you. I will say, though, that it’s a lot more artistic. And it comes with a killer soundtrack.

4/5 stars