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Movie Review

Sucker Punch

A video game more than an action movie

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / March 25, 2011

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With “Sucker Punch,’’ Zack Snyder makes his bid for the big time. What, the successes of “300’’ and “Watchmen’’ weren’t enough? Not if he wants to be a showman-auteur in a league with Baz Luhrmann, Christopher Nolan, or Quentin Tarantino.

No such luck, Zack, but thanks for trying. The new movie is Snyder’s first original script — cowritten with Steve Shibuya — and it’s a surprisingly joyless mash-up of every bit of fanboy flotsam floating around in its maker’s cranium. It begins with the young, lissome Babydoll (Emily Browning) framed for the murder of her sister and committed to the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane (that’s what the sign says) by her pervert stepfather (Gerard Plunkett).

This experience proves so traumatic that the heroine flees to the dank MTV whorehouse in her imagination, where the asylum inmates become a hardy sisterhood looking to escape, Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) becomes the madame, and the evil orderly Blue (Oscar Isaac) serves as sadistic pimp. When things get too stressful there, Babydoll plunges into a deeper level of fantasy-action set pieces involving medieval Japan, WWI trench warfare, WWII bomber runs, and outer space.

That’s right: “Sucker Punch’’ is “Inception’’ for dummies.

But what hasn’t Snyder poured into this stew? The over-directed action scenes snap together “Sailor Moon,’’ “Sin City,’’ and “Kill Bill’’ like pieces of Lego. The most interesting visual idea is the giant two-legged tank with a happy bunny face, but if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the bit. Actually, this is the rare movie that doesn’t advance on its poster.

As with “300,’’ “Sucker Punch’’ resembles a ripsnorting video game or the longest Super Bowl commercial ever made more than it does a movie. The soundtrack is jammed with “Moulin Rouge’’-style modern rawk takes on the Stooges, Roxy Music, Queen, and Björk, and the cinematography drains the movie of all colors except a bilious metallic sheen. For all its noise and supersonic style, “Sucker Punch’’ is a drab drag.

Somewhere in here is a genuinely subversive girls-in-prison movie, and the talented cast certainly seems game: Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea, Jena Malone as Rocket, Vanessa Hudgens escaping Planet Disney as Blondie, Jamie Chung as Amber. They’re power babes looking for a socket to plug into.

Instead Snyder dolls them up in Victoria’s Secret cast-offs, hands them ginormous guns, and forgets to let them have any fun. With all the trash culture he has absorbed, you’d think someone would have sat the director down with Russ Meyer’s “Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill!’’ Now, those women knew how to sucker punch.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

SUCKER PUNCH

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Written by: Snyder and Steve Shibuya

Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs, and Jordan’s IMAX in Natick and Reading

Running time: 109 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (thematic material involving sexuality, violence, and combat sequences, and for language)

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