Effects leave us punch-drunk.
Director: Zack Snyder. Contains swearing and violence.
IN THE boxing ring, a sucker punch is a devastating, unexpected blow that sends an unwary opponent sprawling, dazed and confused.
On the big screen, director Zack Snyder's action-adventure Sucker Punch is more of a gentle poke in the ribs that renders us dazed and thoroughly bemused.
There's no doubting that Snyder (300, Watchmen) can orchestrate a miasma of dazzling computer-generated visuals to a pounding rock soundtrack and he can choreograph balletic action sequences laden with slow-motion leaps and somersaults.
The film's title forms from rivulets of rain on a car window, melting away as the vehicle speeds off into the distance.
Snyder and cowriter Steve Shibuya gorge our senses with visions of firebreathing dragons, gargantuan samurais and reanimated zombie soldiers, but they also starve our brains with a flimsy, nonsensical tale of reality versus fantasy. Characterisation and narrative coherence are completely redundant. Babydoll (Emily Browning) is institutionalised at Lennox House For The Mentally Insane by her cruel stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), who wants the young woman lobotomised so he can get his grubby hands on the family fortune. Abandoned at the mercy of head orderly Blue (Oscar Isaac) and psychiatrist Dr Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), Babydoll seeks refuge in her dreams.
She imagines the facility as a brothel, where Madam Gorski trains the girls to dance for gentlemen and Blue creams off the profits.
Fellow inmates Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) are slowly drawn into Babydoll's alternate universe, where they hatch a daring escape plan.
A wise man (Scott Glenn) advises Babydoll to seek out five treasures - a map, fire, a knife, a key and a mysterious final item - that will help the girls become mistresses of their destiny.
Sucker Punch mashes together influences and motifs from anime, video games and popular culture to realise fantastical realms including 15th Century feudal Japan, the trenches of the First World War and a futuristic alien world.
The ramshackle plot is merely a hook for the director's bag of digital tricks, promoting a message of female empowerment - so long as the heroines achieve their freedom in corsets, basques and panties.
DAZED Sucker Punch