Two thoughts ran through my mind as soon as the closing credits started rolling: first, was I really so dumb that I couldn’t figure out what the title means? and second, how the heck did the movie, for all its special effects and bombtastic action scenes, manage to become dragging not even midway through it’s less than two-hour screen time?
And hot on the trail of those thoughts, comes the nagging sense of trying to convince myself that I didn’t waste my money because the effects were spectacular. And there you get the gist of the movie: there ain’t any story to tell.
Set in the 50’s, the movie started interestingly enough, with Baby Doll (Emily Browning) being sent to an asylum by her stepfather who cruelly beat her sister to death after their mother’s death (which was never established if through murder or sickness) to prevent her from telling the truth and to get her inheritance. Unfortunately enough for our heroine, the institution is being run by a sinister-looking sleazy guy, who unknown (I assume) to the actual doctor of the asylum, accepts patients whom others would want to get rid off, and forges the signature of the doctor into authorizing lobotomy on a number of such patients. Baby Doll learns she is scheduled for one five days from the time she is committed.
From there, the movie starts to go nowhere but into several layers of fantasy which initially prompts comparisons to Inception: Baby Doll lapses into a dream world where the asylum is a brothel and she and the other patients are “dancers” who must please their clients to earn their keep. This world draws comparisons again to another movie: Moulin Rouge. As she (and presumably the other girls) dances, she enters a third world where she and the girls she befriends in the brothel, are warriors with samurais, big guns, and robots, with just one goal: fight the bad guys to get a certain treasure.
Now, it’s clear enough that these fight sequences are symbolic of how the girls plan and manage to collect the five things they need to escape the asylum – map, fire, knife, and key,with the fifth item to be discovered when need: a purpose.
And that’s the entire story. We know nothing about the other girls other than their names: Rocket (Jena Malone), whom Baby Doll rescues from the cook and had run away from home only to end up in the asylum, her older sister Sweet Pea (played by Abbie Cornish who reminded me so much of Alexa Davalos who had in turn, played Andromeda in Clash of Titans last year),who followed her sister to keep her from trouble, Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung, who had played Chi-chi in Dragonball the movie). Other than those tidbits I mentioned, there is nothing more known of these girls or how they ended up committed. And as soon as I figured out there was no story to be told, hour and a half began to feel like an eternity.
As a visual treat, this movie’s a success – after all, the director is no less than Zack Snyder who gave us the gore fest 300 a couple of year ago. And I am quite absorbed with how flawless Baby Doll always looks like, as if she were the doll she was named after.
But ten minutes into the movie and I have this generalization formed at the back of my mind: this movie is nothing more than a live-action, anime-inspired soft porn aimed at men who have a fetish for school-girl types and/or a bit of sadomasochism. If that was the aim, it succeeded as I could not help but squirm in my seat every time Baby Doll shows up in her skimpy skirt ala-Sailormoon or when she prepares to do her sexy dance (which, surprisingly or not, we NEVER get to see). While I commend the seamless transition between realities, I could never understand why Baby Doll would choose to imagine being in a brothel or in an old-fashioned sci-fi war in her dream landscapes. Or was she secretly a sexual pervert?
It has the vibe of Inception/Moulin Rouge/300/Shutter Island all rolled into one, but for all its ambitions and parallels to those great movies, it never approximates even half of the accomplishments and merits of any single one. And so, I am left dejected to try and convince myself that the money I paid for yielded returns in the form of the special effects.
* Images from Google