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Front Page - Friday, August 12, 2016

‘Suicide Squad’ shoots itself in the foot

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

“Suicide Squad” must have sounded like a good idea. With Superman out of the picture (see “Batman v. Superman”), America needs a new protector. To fill the gap, U.S. intelligence operative Amanda Waller assembles a team of dangerous criminals. There’s Deadshot, an elite hit man; a pyrokinetic ex-gangster known as El Diablo; a monstrous cannibal called Killer Croc; and more. Waller places them under command of Col. Rick Flag, who plants a tiny bomb in their heads as a control tactic. 

Before you can say, “That’s gangsta,” a spirit witch known as the Enchantress gives this team a test run when she takes over the body of an archeologist and begins building a machine that can destroy mankind.

Clearly, the joy of “Suicide Squad” was supposed to be found in watching this group of very bad people come together to do something good. And “Suicide Squad” is not without its pleasures. For starters, Will Smith is terrific as Deadshot. He not only makes you believe his character can kill without remorse, but he plays the softer side of the assassin, who loves his adolescent daughter, very well. 

That said, Margot Robbie nearly steals the show as Harley Quinn, a former psychiatrist turned crazed supervillain who has way too much fun bashing in heads with her baseball bat, and looks way too good doing it in her tight t-shirt and short shorts. She’s cute, sassy, dangerous... I don’t think there are enough adjectives to describe her or Robbie’s pitch perfect performance. I also liked Waller, who initially comes across as a patriot but eventually reveals herself to be more calculating and deadly than any of the super villains she’s brought together.

Unfortunately, too many shortcomings seep in from the edges of the screen to spoil the party. The dialog is serviceable, but lacks the snap and killer lines one expects from a movie like this. To make up for the general lack of zing, the soundtrack works overtime to give the film edge. While “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the remake of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Without Me” by Eminem make for a mean soundtrack, the music also comes across as desperate. Classic rock worked for “Guardians of the Galaxy” because that movie was funny and clever; “Suicide Squad” is not.

The film, which was written and directed by David Ayer, also makes poor use of certain characters. Unlike the Avengers films, which utilize a large cast, “Suicide Squad” is simply full of bodies, many of which it doesn’t seem to need. From Katana, who acts as Flag’s bodyguard, to Captain Boomerang, some of the characters seem to exist as just another knife in the fight.

Surprisingly, Ayer, who knocked the World War II tank pic “Fury” out of the ballpark, doesn’t direct the action with much style or panache, either. I was expecting the love child of “Captain America: Civil War” and Martin Scorsese’s “Good Fellas,” and was disappointed that, like the dialog, the action was merely utilitarian.

The film’s most glaring pimple, however, is its villain. Too many ambiguities surround the Enchantress – including her back-story, how she works, and why she wants to kill every human –  for her to have the kind of substance she needs. Much like “Star Trek Beyond” stumbled when it came to the motivations of its bad guy, “Suicide Squad” suffers from a weakly defined villain.

“Suicide Squad” had potential, especially in the way it plays with our culture’s proclivity for villain worship. We love to love the bad guys, but to what extent? At what point will their actions repulse us? But by giving most of the members of the Suicide Squad a modicum of humanity, and therefore a vulnerability (Deadshot’s daughter, Harley Quinn’s love for the Joker, and El Diablo’s remorse over accidentally killing his family), we never find out. These criminals don’t push any boundaries, nor do they soften or change, because they’re already who they’re going to be.

Perhaps “Suicide Squad” is saying we’re all a unique measure of good and evil, and whether we do more good or bad depends on the choices we make. Then again, that would give the film’s screenplay more credit than it deserves. 

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing behavior, suggestive content, and language.