AT THE MOVIES

SUICIDE SQUAD
(*½)
Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed & Written by:
David Ayer. Based on the DC Characters and concepts by John Ostrander
Starring:
Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie
Length:   123 minutes
Released:   080516
Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language
“...it's a tacky mess."

It might be harsh to call "Suicide Squad" an outright disaster, but it certainly comes close. A lumbering, tone-deaf, barely coherent adaptation of the D.C. Comics series by John Ostrander, the film takes a seemingly can't-miss concept—one pitting bad guys looking for redemption and/or freedom against genuine evil forces—and then squanders it to criminal degrees. Despite being written and directed by David Ayer (2014's "Fury"), the film carries a messy made-by-committee vibe, one that has no idea what it is doing or how to do it. The characters (with one exception) couldn't be any flatter or blander. The candy-colored opening studio logos and end credits bookend a grungy, dreary, stylistically destitute visual scheme, full of boring backlot locations and desperately unimaginative action scenes. For two hours, "Suicide Squad" flops around, gasping for focus, purpose and interest. In short, it's a tacky mess.

In the wake of Superman's presumed death, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to ensure the protection of the planet and put the kibosh on any future unknown yet imminent threats. Her plan: to wrangle together a group of convicted criminals, offering them reduced prison sentences in exchange for their assistance with dangerous black ops missions in Gotham and the nearby, nondescript Midway City. The ragtag clan are supposedly "the worst of the worst," yet include the following: hired-assassin-with-a-heart-of-gold Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Will Smith), who yearns to be reunited with 11-year-old daughter Zoe (Shailyne Pierre-Dixon); Dr. Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a mentally disturbed former psychiatrist who gave up everything to be with her insane yet seductive patient Joker (Jared Leto); Digger Harkness/Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a jovial, beer-swilling thief; Chato Santana/El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a "pyrotechnic homeboy" who regrets taking the life of someone close to him, and Waylon Jones/Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who, well, looks like a human crocodile. Led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman)—and later joined by even more members, including sword-wielding, vengeance-seeking Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Christopher Weiss/Slipknot (Adam Beach)—the Suicide Squad head into the evacuated Midway City to stop Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an ancient, dimension-hopping witch who has possessed the body of Flag's archaeologist girlfriend June Moone. Enchantress and her demon brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine) are out to reclaim her very heart, currently in Waller's possession, which will allow them to take over the world. Or something like that.

"Suicide Squad" is seemingly composed of shots which would—and did—work great for the purposes of trailers and TV ads, but add up to precious little in the film proper. A clothesline of scenes featuring the barest of connective tissue, the film is a haphazardly constructed dud with a creatively bankrupt script. Before the lame, instantly forgettable storyline comes into play, the first act introduces the hard-edged protagonists in clunky, half-hearted flashbacks, some lasting no more than fifteen seconds. When the rare attempt is made to humanize them, emotions are painted in the broadest, soapiest, most pandering melodramatic strokes. With the exception of Deadshot and Harley Quinn, there isn't a hint of substance or chemistry between any of them. As the tedious narrative trudges along without urgency or forward momentum, one question remains: why should the viewer care about these people when the screenplay clearly doesn't?

It is tough to not feel sorry for the actors, who give their all but are left stranded by first-draft material that never should have been put before cameras. If there is a lead, it is Will Smith's (1997's "Men in Black") career hitman Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, but there is only so much that can be done when the very foundation of his part is so superficially realized. Most of the time, it is easy to forget Smith is even starring in the movie. Supporting players like Joel Kinnaman (2014's "RoboCop"), Jai Courtney (2015's "Terminator Genisys") and an unrecognizable, tattooed Jay Hernandez (2016's "Bad Moms") strike as so disconnected from one another they might as well be performing all their scenes in separate rooms. As the no-nonsense Amanda Waller, Viola Davis (2013's "Ender's Game") retains her dignity as she always, without fail, does, but she doesn't seem entirely confident with what she has to work with. As June Moone/Enchantress, Cara Delevingne (2015's "Paper Towns") emanates discomfort for every second she is onscreen, and it doesn't help that her low-rent, Zuul-wannabe villainess spends the bulk of her time standing at an altar as hazy, swirling CGI whisks around her. Her wholly computer-generated brother, Incubus, is even worse, looking like a cross between Tim Curry's Darkness from 1985's "Legend" and a ceramic knick-knack from Pier 1 Imports.

In taking on the iconic Joker—a role which has already been indelibly and very differently portrayed by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger—Jared Leto (2013's "Dallas Buyers Club") reportedly went method, staying in character during the shoot and meeting with doctors and real-life psychopaths as preparation for doing this green-haired, painted-faced super-villain complete justice. His committed, extreme efforts were all for naught; ill-established from the start and little more than an extended cameo, the Joker is awkwardly shoehorned into the narrative with only superficial ties to the story. As with nearly every other actor on hand, Ayer's screenplay wastes Leto to such an outrageous degree it almost feels like a cruel joke.

And then there's Margot Robbie (2016's "The Legend of Tarzan"), the production's single saving grace as splashy, playful lunatic Harley Quinn. One yearns to find out more about her past, her psyche, and the twisted events which led her to give herself over to the maniacal Joker, but none of this is broached. Indeed, whatever nuance there is in the character can be attributed to Robbie's inspired turn. She is the star of the show—and deserving of a better movie to showcase this character's uniquely unpredictable, vivacious personality. Harley Quinn is an embodiment of all the conflicting things this movie is attempting to do. She’s meant to be fun in her I’m so cra-azy way, but she’s also a woman in an abusive relationship the movie has no idea how to handle. She’s supposed to be strong, and in the literal sense, she does bash things with a baseball bat. But she’s also a psychological prisoner who has surrendered her sense of self. She’s a goth icon who talks like a 1930s gangster moll and who owns a gun reading “love” and “hate” on the barrel, but in her deepest heart, all she wants is to be a housewife in curlers, looking after the kids while her green-haired hubby heads off to work. She’s anarchic, but not really, and a good time, but not really, and she’s screwed up, but not really — or at least, not really in a way the movie’s ready to take time to explore. Sure, Harley is a tricky character, but she’s been shaped into an intensely sexualized mascot for a film that yearns for edginess, but can’t get over the rounded curves of its female lead. “I sleep where I want, when I want, with who I want,” she spits at a guard early on, a declaration of agency that’s contradicted by the mental and physical cages in which she finds herself, licking the bars and insisting she’s the one in control, despite hers being a whole lead role devoted to highlighting the villain of a future film. Harley Quinn is meant to be Suicide Squad’s dark heart. Instead, she’s been made into its damaged dolly jerk-off material.

"I've lost one family, I'm not gonna lose another one," Diablo growls near the end of "Suicide Squad." It would be a lovely sentiment if not for ringing resoundingly false, his relationships with the rest of his squad members so shallow and underexplored it would be a surprise if they even knew each other's names by the conclusion. Charmless, depthless and choppily edited, the film exhibits an uncomfortable lack of vision. Is it meant to be a serious and gritty spin-off of "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice?" A tongue-in-cheek dark comedy? Writer-director David Ayer never makes a confident decision either way, his picture ending up in a wishy-washy purgatory where $175-million has been blown on a junk-store plot, boring villains, and a gang of misused anti-heroes with nothing to do and nowhere, physically or emotionally, to go. In terms of the promise it held and the folly of what has found its way to the screen, "Suicide Squad" is easily one of 2016's most disappointing films.
 


SUICIDE SQUAD  ©  2016 Warner Bros Pictures
All Rights Reserved


Review © 2016 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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