Fueled by the berserk brain juice of SFX addict Zack Snyder, director of the homoerotic battle fest 300 and epic graphic novel adaptation Watchmen, Sucker Punch is about a woman who goes troppo in a mental asylum and visits a futuristic fantasy land of war and anarchy every time she dances.

In the real world, when Baby Doll (Emily Browning) shakes her caboose the guards and turnkeys around her are so transfixed they can be cheated of certain objects – such as a map and a key – which are crucial to the Nintendo-like plan Baby Doll introduces to her fellow catwalk crazies.

The audience never actually see her busting moves. We assume Baby Doll’s style is some sort of full body dry heave set to music, something so disturbingly engrossing nobody could entertain the idea of looking away.

Our coo-coo heroine is trapped in institutionalised hell as a result of accidentally killing her sister, a grisly encounter depicted in the movie’s bizarrely disengaging opening sequence that plays like a music video or a trailer for another flick.

In a nut house populated by sexy women, Baby Doll provides a sort of spiritual aura — a guide to the Promised Land, which resides somewhere, anywhere outside the institution’s walls.
When she starts dancing the movie leaps into high-powered action mode, with BD and the gang — their skirts always poised rather high above the knee — fighting in a grungy looking futuristic world against dragons, huge samurais and strange Nazi-like soldiers with melted faces. Naw, this ain’t social realism.

There is a hells bells energy to the endlessly energetic action scenes, which are handled with the kind of mindless delirium that coursed through 300. The audience are confronted with spectacular visuals that somehow take them on a very quick route to yawnsville.

300 and now Sucker Punch make it clear that when Snyder gets free reign to go mad on CGI, his ADD music vid direction descends into bad craziness. The dense spiraling plotlines of Watchmen kept his style matched to a decent story, but no such luck here.

Buried somewhere underneath the muck – the action scenes that go nowhere, the lingerie models passed off as characters, the crude overarching attempt to stick random flecks of plot together – is a confused message about new age feminism, about chicks in skimpy outfits fighting The Man, represented by men in general: the asylum’s cruel head honcho, the fat slob in the kitchen.

To make out what this message is about — to get to the bottom of the scramble of half-baked ideas festering  amongst the sound and fury — would be like listening to a THX sound system cranked to max hit the peak of Carmina Burana, with windows rattling, walls shaking, chairs and glasses falling over, dogs barking, babies crying, alarms wailing, then trying to hear the sound a leaf makes when it falls onto the floor.

Sucker Punch ends with weird and desperate sermonizing imploring feminists to keep on fighting, to live and die and sweat and bleed for the cause, as if the previous two or so hours hadn’t been loaded with the kind of crass titillation lapped up and slurped down by horny high school boys with bulges in their pants and splotches in their brains.

But let’s not get carried away. Sucker Punch isn’t, after all, a movie. It’s a video game you can’t play. It’s a porno mag you can’t open. It’s a headache that won’t stop until the end credits roll.

Sucker Punch’s Australian theatrical release date: April 7, 2011.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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