Sucker Punch: 2 (out of 10)

It would be easy to dismiss Sucker Punch as simply pandering to its audience. Yes, the movie aims at geek culture in general, teenage males in particular; and as such it certainly offers as much skin and anime-style action as it can provide within the confines of a PG-13 rating. But Punch does not want to just pander to its audience; instead, it aims to be something more than just your average Summer Action Movie, hoping perhaps to reach the lofty heights of "art". Unfortunately, this ambition turns out to be the movie's undoing.

The movie's story is simple but purposefully convoluted. A girl's wicked stepfather sends her to a mental institution, where she will be lobotomized in five days. To escape this horror, she withdraws into a dream world; in this world, she lives as a slave in a high-class brothel. Within this still-nightmarish dream world, she retreats yet further into a series of yet-more-nightmarish worlds, where she learns to fight for her own survival and for the freedom of her friends.

The heart of the movie lies in these "shell" worlds. The "third shell" contains the action set pieces and self-esteem boosters; the "second shell" provides the drama, dialogue, and characters; and the "first shell" provides a shell and framing device for the rest of the movie. Specifically, the ambition of the movie lies in the interaction of the second and third shells, with the use of dream violence in the third world working to impact real events in the first world - basically, an odd combination of Brazil and Shutter Island.

Unfortunately, this just plain doesn't work. The interaction between the second and first layers is grossly underdeveloped - for instance, most of the characters only have dialogue in the second shell! This ruined any potential connection between the first and third layers and, frustratingly, any potential from the overall story. While some exposition at the end of the film tries to paper over this gaping hole, this only draws notice to the flaw.

Still, to be fair, the trailers did not lie. The action scenes in the third shell are plentiful and packed with special-effects; the action itself is well choreographed, within the sensibilities of Zack Snyder; and the stars of the film are scantily-clad females with large guns and swords fighting robotic samurai, zombie Nazis, martial-arts robots, and the occasional dragon. But these action scenes begin and end by roughly explaining the subtext within, making the metaphors as much a part of the action as the special effects themselves. This makes the metaphors as "real" as the special effects, which is rarely a good sign.

I'm not sure what it would have taken to make this into a good movie. It would have taken more than improving any single element of the film; the whole thing was simply under-engineered for the job, from the vision and script to the acting and musical selection. While perhaps it wasn't a total loss - it should at least provide interesting cosplay opportunities for years to come - it was a significant disappointment over already low expectations. Avoid.

Rating: 2/10 (* 1/2 out of 4)