Sucker Punch looks good on the outside but does it have the depth to be truly amazing? John Mosby finds out.

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Sucker Punch Cover
Released By: Warner Home Video
Price: £10.99
Availability: 8th August 2011

Watching early trailers for Sucker Punch led many to believe it could be the early-entry bench-marker of the year. Barely a box went unchecked as we glimpsed a group of kick-ass young women entering a series of fantasy worlds to take on the bad-guys. Massive samurai, demonic Nazis, awesome Orcs… it was if every single big-blockbuster was getting a warm-handshake and invited to join the party.

From the first few moments of the finished film it’s clear that we’re going for a stylised presentation – Tarantino meets Tim Burton. ‘Baby-Doll’ is sent to a foreboding mental asylum after she accidentally kills the younger sister she was trying to protect from their abusive step-father. The step-father bribes the asylum’s nurse to perform a lobotomy on the girl, which is agreed to take place in five days’ time. But in the asylum, Baby Doll encounters possible kindred spirits, Sweet-Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber and they escape into various fantasy set-pieces in which they look for clues to escape their physical and mental prisons. But time is running out – can all of them escape and is reality itself what any of them believe?

Director Zack Snyder (of 300 and Watchmen fame) would like the audience to believe that this is a film all about female empowerment, but like a number of other directors (consistently Michael Bay and occasionally James Cameron) there can be a disconnect between the quality of the groundbreaking pixels on one left hand and the quantity of the flesh held in the right. I’m no prude but it’s hard to take a story – in which a girl’s inner fantasy word turns out to be a bordello, most of the characters have stripper names and many of the ‘reality’ set-pieces revolve around erotic floor-shows and characters in school-girl outfits – as any great statement on anything other than a male director getting his rocks off courtesy of a big-budget. Subtlety-wise… it’s like being lap-danced at Stringfellows by a Transformer.

The thing about such flashing lights and neon signage is that it only looks good in the dark – likewise the thing about Sucker Punch is that it’s only emerging into that eventual daylight that makes you recognise that the night-club is an empty-building with sticky carpets, the sure-thing is throwing up on the pavement and your wallet has been mugged. The film has startlingly-good decorations and imagination. The visual distractions are some of the best you’ll have seen to date, but not only is the result ‘fur-coat and no knickers’, it’s also noticeably devoid of any heart and soul.

I’ve described some previous DVD releases as acceptable ‘beer and pizza’ outings, that you shouldn’t take seriously but can be perfectly decent for a forgettable couple of hours. Sucker Punch feels like the high-end cocktail version of the same. Parts of its make-up should rightly be applauded as superb set-piece action cinema, genuinely getting the blood-pumping and the eye’s sparkling for all the right reasons (though, a ‘12’ certificate – really?). The cast are pert and pretty, lithe and flexible – the epic scale is broad and panoramic. But ultimately the flights of fantasy seem chained to the lower realms, full of wannabee potential but never really reaching high. The film desperately struts and shimmies, wanting to be a sexy Inception, but it’s all transitory, shallow and despite a last-minute bait-and switch, it isn’t anywhere as clever as it thinks it is.

Ultimately Sucker Punch pulls some effective dirty tricks and fancy footwork but never delivers the upper-cut for which it was bred.