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Dave on film: Sadistic video-game drivel

Imagine a building where one side is a dark, dreary insane asylum populated by sadistic guards, doctors and attractive female inmates, and the other side is a popular brothel and speakeasy. Sounds like the heart of a b-movie exploitation film, which aptly describes Sucker Punch, the new computer-graphics filled cinematic graphic novel from Zack Snyder.

Unfortunately, the film is also painfully juvenile, with a target audience of adolescent boys who define their real world as being surrounded by bullies and beautiful, unobtainable girls, while their virtual, video-fueled lives are filled with bad guys, dragons and demons to kill with various cool and hyper-aggressive weapons. It's no surprise that the women in the film are all costumed in fetishistic outfits with plunging necklines, bare midriffs, über-short skirts and long stockings. They're all very sexy but, unsurprisingly, there's no actual sex in the film.

Sucker Punch starts out with a dark, moody sequence where late teen blonde waif Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is trapped in a gothic monstrosity of a house with her scary, leering stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). When she rejects his advances, he turns his attentions to her little sister. Baby finds a gun to shoot him but misfires, killing her sister instead. His revenge is to have her locked up in the home for the mentally ill.

And that's where it switches from a delightfully creepy horror film into an incoherent genre mashup. Baby Doll meets the other babes in distress that become her posse: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). They're all required to act out erotic plays in the speakeasy then entertain individual customers, through which we realize that all the women in Sucker Punch are victims of sadistic men, and that there are no bad women -- or good men -- in the entire narrative.

The fantastic visuals are come from Baby Doll trying to escape the harsh reality of her new existence as a sort of indentured prostitute: she is extolled by the ambiguous Russian psychiatrist/madam Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) that "you create your own reality" and then encounters the Wise Man (Scott Glenn, who was awful in this role) in a strange Last Airbender-inspired Japanese temple that her fevered imagination creates. He explains to her that she needs five things to be able to permanently escape the hell of her existence, and thereby starts the quest.

Subsequent fantasy sequences incorporate her posse of fellow girls, all of whom are similarly dressed in what are best described as skanky Halloween costumes. Some take place in a sort of stylized World War II trench, where the German soldiers have been reanimated by the Nazis and are now steam-punk zombies. Later, the girls fly an armed military chopper to a castle teeming with demons and guarded by an angry dragon. The last fantasy sequence moves to a more futuristic world where Baby Doll and her gang fight through a train of bad guys to disarm a bomb.

The tension in the film is generated by a standard trope: a countdown clock. In this case, we learn at the very beginning -- and in the movie adverts -- that Baby Doll is going to be lobotomized five days after she's been brought to the asylum. There's no clock on the wall, but there are many references throughout the film to how many days are left before "High Roller" (Jon Hamm) comes in to do the job.

Zack Snyder has previously given us some great films. His 300 was critically acclaimed and helped bring back sword-and-sandal films to the cineplex, and I thought his adaptation of the complex Watchmen was excellent.

Sucker Punch lists him as writer and director, and I just have to say that if this is what's floating around in Snyder's psyche, he might well need to get some professional help. The non-stop sadism of the film, the tawdry sexualization of just about every scene, the fetishistic costumes and the crass stereotyping of all men as evil, sadistic monsters was exhausting.

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Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Along the way he’s become a nationally recognized expert on technology, an accomplished writer, and award-winning public speaker and blogger. You can find his film writing at  www.DaveOnFilm.com and follow his film commentary on Twitter at @FilmBuzz or just email him at taylor@intuitive.com.

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