Sucker Punch little more than visuals

Sucker Punch is a movie about a girl imagining herself as a superhero who shoots a lot of bad guys while dressed as a Japanese schoolgirl. That summary alone should save any moviegoer 10 bucks.  

To its credit, the PG-13 movie, directed, produced and co-written by Zach Snyder (300), does try to bring across an inspirational message about self-empowerment and all that jazz.

But what is ultimately portrayed is a mash-up of trite genres with constant action, pulsating rock music and riddled with just enough cleavage and not enough soul.

The only things worthy of your time here are the visuals. As expected based on Snyder’s trademark stylized computer-generated effects, the slow-moving choreography and the imaginative cinematography are stunning.

The film starts out in thunder and darkness, and through the crack of the splattered window you see the back of a gleaming, ghostly blonde.

Soon, in slow-motion, 20-year-old Baby Doll (Emily Browning, who with her white-blonde hair, full lips, and fake eyelashes, really does look like a baby doll) is shown wrestling with her stepfather, then accidentally shooting her sister.

Loud, electronic music drowns out the dialogue in the scene, and by the time Baby Doll is locked into a mental institution, audience members are mesmerized and at the edge of their seats.

Unfortunately, that initial interest dissipates, as the film becomes about non-stop action and loud noises.

In the mental institution, Baby Doll meets four other institutionalized young women: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). With their newfound camaraderie, they plan an escape together.

The sequence, however, is not clear, as Baby Doll suddenly starts imagining being sold to a brothel and her escape plan formulates within her imagination. In fact, life in the mental institution is hardly shown at all; the majority of the film takes place in Baby Doll’s mind.

The brothel, which resembles a set borrowed from Moulin Rouge, is governed by a statuesque dance mistress with an Eastern European accent (Carla Gurgino) and a creepy mustached pimp (Oscar Isaac). There is also an obese, pockmarked cook and a rotund cigar-sucking mayor. All the females are dressed like the backup dancers in Chicago.

Baby Doll’s imagination takes on another level of incredulity when she realizes she can dance really well. All she needs to do is to transport her mind into another imaginative body, this time clad in a skimpy Sailor Moon outfit, swinging a samurai sword at massive machine warriors, Nazi steam-zombies and fire-breathing dragons.

Despite the shifting between escape from physical imprisonment and escape from reality, the plot is quite simple: The girls need to get four items to escape within five days, because that is when a doctor (Jon Hamm) is coming to lobotomize Baby Doll (or, in the bordello world, take her virginity).

All the battle scenes take place while Baby Doll dances and looks like a character in  an Xbox world. Rock is always blaring, and you almost expect to see points accumulating on the side of the screen as Baby Doll and her team somersault, karate-chop and machine-gun in high heels and skin-tight costumes to kill the bad guys and complete their quest.

In classic Charlie’s Angels fashion, these girls also have a stern-looking Wiseman (Scott Glenn) to guide them through their escape. He takes turns donning monk robes, or military attire depending on the backdrop, and doesn’t do much except look tough and fatherly.

The plot itself is original and could have been a good story, but the film falls flat because little attention was given to the storytelling itself.

It is as if Snyder hopes by giving a toned-down version of a pubescent male’s wet dream come true, the audience will forgive the dull, one-dimensional characters and mostly wordless scenes.

With all these factors in mind, Sucker Punch is a noble attempt at producing a novel film, but would be much better as a video game for teenagers with schoolgirl fantasies.

Zach Snyder might be a brilliant picturemaker, but even the most visually attractive movie is dull without dramatic craft and humanized characters.