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‘Sucker Punch’: A visual roller coaster

Director Zack Snyder is a master when it comes to creating visually stunning films. His latest, “Sucker Punch,” is an explosion of imagery and audio stimulation that’s almost too much for the normal senses to handle.

He launches his assault with high-intensity battles that rival the best video games and then continues the barrage with worlds where time seems to flow in multiple directions.

The only thing linear about a Snyder film is the line a tracer bullet takes to a creature’s forehead.

Too bad for the moments when the assault on the senses gives way to plot and dialogue. That’s when his films get muddled. Watching “Sucker Punch” is like playing a fantastic video game where the exposition between battles just seems to get in the way.

The convoluted plot has Babydoll (Emily Browning) being sent to a mental institution by her stepfather. She’s got five days to escape before she gets a lobotomy.

Babydoll rounds up a group of young women -- Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) -- to help her.

Here’s where reality becomes an afterthought. Babydoll creates elaborate missions in her mind for this fantasy five -- who look like five offsprings of Lara Croft -- that have a passion for masochistic Manga. They travel to surreal landscapes to battle zombies, killer robots and dragons.

The technology and weaponry are a mash of past, present and future, as when a Vietnam-era helicopter is used to chase down a bullet train. It’s all part of Snyder’s passion to pit the real against the unreal.

Because the story takes place in Babydoll’s mind, Snyder is not hampered by the laws of nature and physics. He takes advantage of that liberty to create stunning, mind-blowing battles.

Snyder even uses music -- a driving soundtrack by Marius de Vries and Tyler Bates -- as another character. The song selection, which includes reworks of tunes by Bjork, Queen and the Beatles, serves as a musical narrator.

Then the story rears its ugly head. Snyder never makes it clear how much of the story is taking place in what’s supposed to be the real world and how much is the mental manifestations of a young woman. Because the reality is so slippery, it’s hard to get any footing when it comes to the characters.

That’s not a fatal problem. “Sucker Punch” isn’t meant as a standard movie experience. That would be like watching someone play a video game like “Final Fantasy” and wondering why the characters never stop for lunch.

“Sucker Punch” is best appreciated as a visual roller coaster. Don’t think. Just hold on and enjoy the wild ride.