Leto and Robbie can't keep 'Suicide Squad' from going kamikaze

Posted August 7

“SUICIDE SQUAD” — 2 stars — Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne; PG-13 (sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language); in general release

Imagine “The Dirty Dozen” with super-villains. That’s the idea behind “Suicide Squad,” the latest entry in the DC stable of comic book movies.

Unfortunately, a great idea does not equal a great movie. “Suicide Squad” is a perfect reflection of its soundtrack: it’s got a lot of great pieces, but director David Ayer never matches the perfect song to a perfect moment. A lot of quality performances are undercut by a weak story, and “Suicide Squad” kamikazes its way into a clunky disappointment.

The story takes place in the same cinematic universe that just saw Batman duke it out with Superman a few months ago. The powers that be in Gotham are worried about the recent uptick in “metahumans,” so they decide to fight fire with fire. Their plan: draft the city’s nastiest prisoners into a crime-fighting all-star team and keep them in check by putting explosive implants in their necks that will detonate at the first sign of misbehavior.

The team includes an assassin named Deadshot (Will Smith), a scaly He-Man called Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and a psychologist-turned-psychopath named Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). A military operative named Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is assigned to be the team’s leader/baby sitter, but the woman pulling everyone’s strings (Viola Davis) might be more dangerous than all of them.

The team’s first call to action comes when a mysterious teleporting witch named Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) sets up shop in a downtown train station and starts building a super-weapon.

The squad’s job is simple: fight their way downtown to take out Enchantress and her super-weapon. Luckily, it takes over half the movie for Enchantress to build the weapon. There are complications, though. Enchantress has possessed the body of Flag’s girlfriend, so they can’t exactly take her out from a distance. Also, Quinn’s boyfriend — The Joker (Jared Leto) — is pretty intent on breaking her out of custody.

The idea is sound, but the follow-through is clumsy. “Suicide Squad” should be a high-energy piece of campy craziness, but too often its jokes feel awkward against the film’s self-serious tone. (This could be explained by rumors that Ayer added several last-minute re-shoots to better suit the trailer’s dark and humorous tone.)

There’s plenty of action to go around, but the flash falls flat against a story that feels lifeless. The Enchantress character feels especially flawed. She’s an intriguing threat because she can teleport, but instead the story keeps her rooted at the train station, waving her hands around in an awkward CGI hocus-pocus shot that, by the film’s reckoning, must last for hours while everyone else battles outside.

Ayer tries to develop some additional character motivation for Deadshot and a human flamethrower named Diablo (Jay Hernandez), but none of it feels sufficient to justify their actions, especially late in the film.

Robbie has a lot of fun as Harley Quinn, but the film’s biggest dose of publicity has surrounded her on-screen boyfriend. Leto’s performance is an impressive effort, but it almost feels wasted against such mediocre material.

Maybe it’s a case of too little screen time for too many characters (especially if you happen to be a fan of Slipknot), but no one manages to distinguish themselves outside of Robbie and Leto. Smith is front and center but really doesn’t have much to do, and the Rick Flag role feels like it needed a better-known actor to keep the other stars in check.

As part of the DC Universe, there are plenty of references to outside characters and setups (including a post-credits scene) for future films. Fans will also enjoy a cameo from the new Batman, now played by Ben Affleck.

But sadly there’s nothing here that will leave fans salivating for a “Suicide Squad” sequel. On paper, everything about this movie suggested a manic piece of dark, guilty, cheer-for-the-bad-guys fun. The pieces are all there, but the hits are choked out by the weak filler.

“Suicide Squad” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language; running time: 123 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.


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