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Originally published March 24, 2011 at 10:58 AM | Page modified March 24, 2011 at 2:07 PM

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Movie review

'Sucker Punch': Trapped in a bizarro Zack Snyder fantasy

For even Zack Snyder, this is some nonsense. The director of "300" and "Watchmen" has temporarily abandoned comic books as source material...

The Associated Press

Movie review 0.5 stars

'Sucker Punch,' with Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Scott Glenn, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm. Directed by Zack Snyder, from a screenplay by Snyder and Steve Shibuya. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language. Several theaters.

For even Zack Snyder, this is some nonsense.

The director of "300" and "Watchmen" has temporarily abandoned comic books as source material, if not inspiration. "Sucker Punch" is based on Snyder's own concept and written by him and Steve Shibuya, but retains Snyder's hyper-stylized violence and thoroughly adolescent sense of reality.

The film, vaguely set in the '60s, opens with a long, dialogue-free section in which our 20-year-old heroine, Babydoll (Emily Browning), and her younger sister lose their mother. They're left at the mercy of a cruel stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), who kills the sister and frames it on Babydoll.

She ends up in a gothic mental hospital where the obviously corrupt chief doctor, Blue (Oscar Isaac), presides. He immediately schedules Babydoll for a lobotomy in five days time.

The film then shifts to a layer of unexplained fantasy where the hospital is instead a nightclub. Blue is recast as a pimp, and the inmates as exotic dancers. They aren't your typical mental-hospital crowd, but a harem of burlesque beauties: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung).

By Babydoll's lead, the girls plot their escape. They must gather a series of items (a map, a knife), each of which they scheme to obtain while Babydoll dances. She is apparently so good that it puts anyone watching in a kind of trance. We never see her moves, but instead shift to yet another layer of fantasy.

Each task is carried out not in the nightclub world, but some other, symbolic realm where a wise man (Scott Glenn) guides them in brutal, absurd tests: a dragon slaying; sword and machine gun combat with stone samurai; and, most remarkably, zombie German soldiers in some comic-book WWI. (When shot, they hiss and deflate like balloons.)

One feels for the talented actors swept into such hokum. Playing the protective one of the bunch, Cornish is still striking, even having dropped from the shining poetry of "Bright Star" to the near illiteracy of "Sucker Punch." Jon Hamm was also somehow persuaded to join, playing a yet stranger figure: a conscientious lobotomy surgeon. That Browning fails to command any presence in such a film shouldn't be held against her.

The one thing you can hand to Snyder is his knack for choreography, even when working in a predominantly green-screen-produced movie. In heavily manipulated images often slowed down, he will never miss a close-up of a knife in midair, or a roundhouse kick at impact.

This is the filmmaker who has been entrusted with the next Superman movie? One can only hope he leaves the zombie German soldiers and characters named "Rocket" on Krypton.

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