The story begins with our heroine, Baby Doll (Emily Browning), in an unfortunate situation when her deceased mother leaves all of her assets to her daughters and nothing for her husband, who is only the stepfather of the girls. In a drunken rage, the stepfather attempts to sexually assault Baby Doll and fails, turning instead to her younger sister. In an effort to defend her sibling, Baby makes a mistake that her sister pays for in the end, and is quickly taken to an all-girl mental asylum by the wicked step-father to undergo a lobotomy in what appears to be an attempt to “shut her up” if the cops come around.
Now here’s where it gets tricky. After the quick tour around the sketchy-looking mental facility, we suddenly come to the room the lobotomy is about to be carried out in by an almost out-of-place Jon Hamm playing the doctor. Just as he is about to begin, Baby’s eyes open wide and all of a sudden we find ourselves in what appears
to be an alternate reality of the hospital, where the dirty, glowering girls are now glammed up bordello slaves forced to dance and more for “high rollers” and other clientele.
After getting a new tour, this time of a place that resembles an elegant theater rather than a mental hospital, Baby is brought to a dance studio room where the other girls and their Madam (who is really their therapist, in the “real” world) are gathered to practice their routines, and is made to dance for the first time. In order to deal with the pressure of having to “fight for her life”, as Dr. Gorski-the-Madam put it, she sinks into what is yet ANOTHER alternate reality where she meets the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) who cryptically instructs her on how to fight for her escape. Confused yet?
The rest of the movie consists of Baby enlisting the help of her fellow mistresses played by solid cast members Jena Malone (Donnie Darko), Abbie Cornish (Stop-Loss), Jamie Chung (Sorority Row) and a less-convincing Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly), to assist her in hip swaying her way to freedom while trying to stay under the radar of the creepy,
but amusing, boss-man Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac).
When the characters visit the alternate reality within the alternate reality, we are given stunning set designs and very intense special effects. Unfortunately, the quality of the special effects was so inconsistent that, at times, they were no more impressive than those featured in the cut-scene of a video game. Longtime movie veteran Carla Gugino does an excellent job as the stern but caring Dr. Vera Gorski/Madam and Abbie Cornish kills it as the headstrong “Sweet Pea”, big sister of equally talented Jena Malone’s “Rocket”.
Snyder does an great job of blending the action and fantasy genres into a visually stunning explosion of realistic-looking dragons, sore-infested mutants, and giant monsters wearing paddy hats with all of the above getting their butts kicked by girls that I am confident have absolutely no chance in doing so in the real world. I wouldn’t have expected any less after seeing a teeny tiny Emily Browning karate kick said giant monster from about 7 stories in the air in the trailer for the film. My complaint, though, is that it ends there. Each reality-within-a-reality scene is chocked full of action packed, unrealistic fight scenes with enemies that I’m assuming have some sort of connection with the real world, yet I’m having trouble seeing what that connection is. What Snyder could have made a completely excellent and original screenplay (the keyword being “complete”), was instead delivered as a movie with all the bells and whistles with nothing to hold them up.
Another minor disappointment involves the character building, or the lack thereof. You get a basic gist of the emotional stability of each character, but not much else. The only characters the screenplay attempts to give a background on, aside from Baby Doll, are the sisters (Sweet Pea and Rocket), but even that bit of information does little to expand on the characters themselves. We know nothing about who any of them really are, and what they did to land themselves in a mental health facility that would probably make a rat cringe at the sight of it. Because of this, when anything bad happens to a character, you experience no emotions more intense than mild surprise.
An impressive performance was given by Emily Browning who conveyed a range of emotions with the ease of a veteran as our leading lady, but the excellent acting was overshadowed by the screenplay that did much to appeal to the eye, but little to complete the story. If you’re looking for guns, girls and lots of mutant punching, you’ve come to the right place, but don’t expect to leave the film with anything more than a furrowed brow as you try to figure out what you just spent the last 2 hours watching.