Video Verdict: ‘Sucker Punch,’ ‘Barney’s Version,’ ‘The Warrior’s Way,’ ‘Season of the Witch,’ ‘Beastly’

Emily Browning plays Baby Doll in the fantasy adventure “Sucker Punch.”

Fans of action movies have a lot of choices on the home video front this week, including a supernatural drama set during the crusades and a mind-bending fantasy from writer-director Zack Snyder.

Sucker Punch

1½ stars
Rated R for sexual content, some violence and brief language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and digital download

Film technology and education is so good that, more and more frequently, moviegoers are presented with the most frustrating of scenarios: Films with astounding visual panache but little substance.

On display this week is “Sucker Punch,” a fantasy adventure co-written and directed by Zack Snyder, a man who proved his technical prowess with the blockbuster action movie “300” and underappreciated superhero drama “Watchmen.” As one might expect, “Sucker Punch” is just as rich and atmospheric as Snyder’s earlier efforts. The thing that’s missing is a solid story, a big flaw considering that the film attempts to deliver three tales in parallel.

The action is centered on a young woman referred to only as Baby Doll (Emily Browning). After her mother dies, her abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) sends her to a mental institution and bribes an orderly named Blue (Oscar Isaac) who promises to get her lobotomized. At this point, Baby Doll retreats to a fantasy world where she and other girls in the institution become dancers in a club run by Blue.

We are led to believe that Baby Doll is such a fine dancer that she can essentially lull anyone into a trance. And when that happens, the film enters yet another reality where she and her friends (played by Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung) become an elite squad of female warriors.

In an early fantasy sequence, Baby Doll meets a mentor (Scott Glenn) who tells her she must gather a series of items in order to escape from the club/institution. Much of the film’s run is then spent bouncing between fantasy worlds as she gathers those things. Why these items are important is never fully explained because the mentor doesn’t provide an actual escape plan.

Snyder is to be commended for the luscious visuals, but they wear thin as the storytelling becomes increasingly slight and key plot points are presented without coherent explanations. Since Snyder is delivering a film that largely occurs in a character’s imagination, these oddities could be explained by dream logic, but that’s a cop out. The truth is, “Sucker Punch” is nothing but a B movie dressed in blockbuster attire.

DVD extras include a short feature on the soundtrack and a collection of animated stories that serve as prequels to the movie. The Blu-ray combo pack has those bits plus an R-rated extended cut of the film and a Maximum Movie Mode option that includes a picture-in-picture commentary by Snyder.

Barney’s Version

3 stars
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD/Blu-ray combo pack

Paul Giamatti has long been one of the finest actors of his generation, and veteran TV director Richard J. Lewis has given him a project that makes full use of his considerable skill. In “Barney’s Version,” Giamatti plays Barney Panofsky, a self-absorbed-yet-somehow-empathetic TV producer who loves and lives with abandon.

The film shifts back and forth between past and present as Barney recalls key moments in his life, including relationships with his three wives (Rachel Lefevre, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike) and his implication in the death of a friend. “Barney’s Version” is not, however, driven by plot. Rather, it’s the character study of a flawed man determined to live his life in bold fashion, even if that means making mistakes along the way.

Giamatti is terrific, convincingly playing Barney at a variety of ages. He also gets outstanding help from a supporting cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Greenwood and Mark Addy. Because of the broad scope of the film, Lewis occasionally allows his pacing to drag, but the overall project is a tremendous success.

Extra features on the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack include three featurettes about the film and an audio commentary with Lewis, writer Michael Konyves and producer Robert Lantos.

The Warrior’s Way

2½ stars
Rated R for strong bloody violence
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Like “Sucker Punch,” “The Warrior’s Way” puts an emphasis on style over substance, delivering the overcooked story of a 19th century Asian swordsman who travels to the American West in search of a peaceful life. That swordsman is Yang (Dong-gun Jang), a great assassin who wipes out all of his clan’s enemies except a baby girl that he refuses to slaughter.

Tired of the bloodshed, Yang decides to raise the baby, but this makes him an enemy of his own people, and he is forced to flee to America. Once there, Yang lands in a bizarre and rundown Old West town where many of the residents are circus performers.

As Yang settles into a sedate life, laundering clothes for a living, he learns that the town has been menaced by an evil man named the Colonel (Danny Huston), and it’s not long before he gets sucked into the struggle. Making things even trickier is the fact that his former clan is intent on tracking him down.

“The Warrior’s Way” cast includes Kate Bosworth, as a feisty Western woman with a personal grudge against the Colonel, and Geoffrey Rush as a drunk who is more than he appears, but neither actor is asked to do anything difficult. Mostly, that’s because “The Warrior’s Way” is all about action. In essence, the film is an old-school martial arts flick transported to the American West. That means lots of stylized fighting and bloodshed with just enough plot to move from one battle to the next.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes montage and deleted scenes.

Season of the Witch

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The most disappointing thing about “Season of the Witch” is that it self destructs only after it has convinced viewers that it’s going to be a lot of fun.

The film relates the story of Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), 14th century knights who tire of killing in the name of God in the Crusades. So, they desert and are promptly captured and jailed for the crime. The two men are, however, offered an opportunity to redeem themselves by transporting a supposed witch (Claire Foy) to trial at a distant abbey.

The rest of the movie follows Behmen, Felson and a ragtag group of comrades as they make their way toward the abbey, encountering stranger and stranger happenings along the way. Much of the journey is entertaining, in large part because Cage and Perlman have an easygoing and likable chemistry.

In fact, things don’t fall apart until the final act when writer Bragi F. Schut and director Dominic Sena deliver a huge plot twist that is both weak and poorly established.

DVD extras include an alternate ending, deleted scenes and two behind-the-scenes featurettes. The Blu-ray release includes all those items plus audio commentaries.

Beastly

1½ stars
Rated PG-13 for language including crude comments, brief violence and some thematic material
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale has been adapted to the screen numerous times, almost always more successfully than in the teen drama “Beastly.”

The film stars Alex Pettyfer as Kyle, an appearance-obsessed high school student who gets his comeuppance after mocking a creepy goth girl who happens to be a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen). Determined to teach Kyle a lesson, she changes him from the toast of his high school into a scarred, bald, tattoo-marred outcast who frightens even his father.

Angry, Kyle lives in isolation with only the help of his housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and tutor (Neil Patrick Harris). But that’s destined to change because a few poorly designed plot points twist the tale until a gorgeous girl named Lindy (“High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens) is forced to live with him.

If you’ve seen any other version of “Beauty and the Beast,” you know what’s going to happen. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and seek one out rather than bothering with “Beastly.” A personal favorite is Disney’s 1991 animated musical, a film so good it makes one wonder how “Beastly” writer-director Daniel Barnz could take such a charming story and make it as lethargic and dull as he has.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, an alternate ending, two making-of featurettes and the music video for “Be Mine” by Kristina and the Dolls.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Rizzoli & Isles” – The Complete First Season: The second season of this TNT drama, focused on Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander), will debut in late July. Since season one has only 10 episodes, you have plenty of time to grab this set and get up to speed.

“Bloodworth”: Indie film about a roaming man (Kris Kristofferson) who returns home four decades after leaving his ex-wife (Frances Conroy) and three sons (Val Kilmer, Dwight Yoakam and W. Earl Brown). Directed by Shane Dax Taylor from a screenplay based on novelist William Gay’s “Provinces of Night.”

“Lord of the Rings” – The Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition: The three “Lord of the Rings” films have been released on home video numerous times, but this 15-disc set promises to be the ultimate collection for hardcore fans. It includes extended editions of all the “Rings” movie on Blu-ray.

“People on Sunday”: A unique mix of documentary and fictional storytelling, this silent German film from 1930 focuses on Berliners enjoying a weekend just prior to Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power. The film is noteworthy not only because it’s considered great but because the screenplay was written by Billy Wilder who went on to an impressive Hollywood career. Presented with German intertitles and English subtitles.

“Black Moon”: Surreal 1975 film by French director Louis Malle. The picture tells the fantasy-filled story of a young woman (Cathryn Harrison) who flees a war between men and women and settles into a farmhouse populated by an unusual family.

“Zazie dans le metro”: Another film by director Louis Malle, this 1960 comedy tells the story of a 10-year-old girl (Catherine Demongeot) who is supposed to spend a weekend in Paris with her uncle (Philippe Noiret). She changes things up by sneaking out and exploring the city on her own. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“Immigration Tango”: Romantic comedy about an American couple and foreign couple who switch partners and marry so the foreigners can stay in the U.S. Directed by David Burton Morris.

Scholastic Storybook Treasures: Scholastic is rolling out two collections of read-along stories on DVD. The first, “I’m Dirty! & I Stink!” features 12 children’s stories, including those mentioned in the title. The second collection, “Good Night, Gorilla … and More Wacky Animal Adventures” has 16 stories including “Danny and the Dinosaur,” “Flossie and the Fox” and the title tale.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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