Review: Sucker Punch packs a visual punch, not much else

Director Zack Snyder’s (“300″/ “Watchmen”) “Sucker Punch,” an incoherent mess of a film, suffers from a cluttered narrative and overly ambitious thematic material.

The film is set in two different realities. In one reality, the film’s central character Baby Doll (Emily Browning/ “The Uninvited”) is framed for the death of her sister and must escape from a psychiatric asylum (which she conceptualizes as a brothel) before being lobotomized in five days.

Throughout her stay at the asylum, Baby Doll and an assortment of other scantily clad inmates must entertain guests with a hypnotic “dance” that somehow transports them to dream worlds, where the inmates must collect five items that will aid them in their escape.

These dream worlds combine a mismatch of fantasy genres, where the samurai sword-wielding femme fatales must battle Nazi zombies, fire breathing dragons, and mechanical cyborgs. While the film’s stunning visuals and epic battle sequences may cause audiences to geek out, the film’s confusing storytelling and disjointed execution are a major disappointment.

The film’s protagonists are bland and do little to differentiate themselves from one another. Browning is competent as the heroine Baby Doll, despite the lack of depth to her character. The film’s other cast members include the tough sisters Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone/ “Saved”), a brunette named Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, “High School Musical”), and the mech-suit piloting Asian Amber (Jamie Chung, “Real World: San Diego”).

Cornish, as Sweet Pea, is one of the more well-developed characters, although her conflicting interactions with her sister Rocket could have been fleshed out more. Carla Gugino (“Sin City”/ “Watchmen”) is forgettable as the Russian dance instructor that teaches the girls how to enter the dreamscapes, and actor Oscar Issac does his best with the material that he’s been given as the film’s smarmy pimp villain Blue Jones.

Everything in “Sucker Punch” demonstrates an exercise in style over substance. The film’s eye popping digital visuals in the dream scenes are truly imaginative but don’t offer any continuity within the grand scheme of the story. The girls usually shoot and slash their way through hundreds of enemies in pursuit of the objects of their quests.

The fight scenes are well-choreographed, featuring world shattering samurai duels, spectacular mech-suit battles with Nazi planes and plenty of mayhem to satisfy the average action junkie. The settings of these unrelated dream worlds shift among ice-encrusted Japanese temples, the trenches of World War II, medieval castles and a futuristic bullet train.

When the film is not indulging in senseless action set pieces, it is usually devolving into a series of melodramatic music video-like sequences that try to convey the overall story. With the exception of the well-made intro sequence, these scenes take away from the overall film. “Sucker Punch” had the potential to be a good movie, but it stumbles to incorporate all of its ideas into the architecture of its story.

The film could have also benefited from better editing and directing from its visionary director Zack Snyder. The film is lacking in its muddled storytelling.

Paisano Rating Score: D+