Review: Sucker Punch

(M) ***

Director: Zack Snyder.

Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jenna Malone, Scott Glenn, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac, Carla Gugino.

WHAT a beautiful-looking mess.

That's the best way to sum up Snyder's latest project, which employs all the visual flair (and then some) that made his previous films 300 and Watchmen such eye-watering treats. The problem here is that the threads holding together Sucker Punch's boundless imagination and stunning look aren't strong enough, causing the movie to unravel continually.

In a stunning and devastating opening we meet Baby Doll, who is sent to a mental asylum after attempting to kill her evil stepfather.

Once imprisoned, fantasy takes over - not just one level, but two. Baby Doll envisions the nut-house as a kind of bordello in which she will be the star attraction when the High Roller arrives in five days time. The fantasy within that fantasy is her escape plan, which sees her and four fellow inmates battling giant samurais, undead Nazis, fire-breathing dragons and killer robots in an attempt to collect four magical items that will enable their escape.

The ideas here are big and many - too many to be contained by the haphazard script - and the number of styles employed is almost as overwhelming. Computer games, manga, war films, Lord Of The Rings-style action, asylum movies such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Girl Interrupted, the fantasy of Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard Of Oz, sci-fi, hints of musicals, and even a noir-ish gangster-style tone are employed throughout in baffling and disorientating quantities.

Snyder's love of slo-mo and full bag of camera tricks are on display from the get-go, and visually it is a dazzling mix. The opening is excellent, as is a full-on assault on a bomb-carrying train laden with death bots.

But it's all too much. Despite the best efforts of Browning, Glenn and Malone, the script can't keep its disparate ideas on track and the film suffers as a result. The initial introduction to the first layer of fantasy comes too swiftly and jarringly so, while the next layer of fantasy lacks any sense of danger or tension until it's too late.

It's hard to write Sucker Punch off completely though. It's ambition is astounding and when it all clicks, it's an iconic-looking place of cinema with flair and style to burn.

It's not a matter of style in lieu of substance either - there is substance here, but characters, plotting, and deeper themes aren't fully explored enough to save it from being a near-psychedelic mess.

Sucker Punch is best likened to a damaged firework - it looks pretty as it spirals uncontrollably and sparking across the sky, but you know it could've had more impact if it had worked properly.

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