Review: “Suicide Squad”

It was a flawless premise in theory: an adaptation of a comic book series in which a team of low-level super-villains are pressed into going on deadly, off-the-books missions in exchange for time off for sort-of-good behavior, written and directed by the talented David Ayer (“End of Watch,” “Fury”) and starring a gaggle of A-listers, rising stars, and established character actors. Think “The Dirty Dozen” and “Mission: Impossible” by way of “The Avengers”.

Alas, the result is a surprisingly disjointed mess. One can tell that Warner Bros. hit the panic button after the fiasco that was “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, and turned to “Suicide Squad” for damage control for a comic book movie franchise that began floundering the moment it hit open water. The dreaded word “reshoots” began floating around in the spring, and reports of studio micromanagement and competing cuts are starting to surface. Not that any of it mattered – the movie reeks of a muddled, half-assed rush job.

The alarms go off pretty early on, as the movie begins with some splashy graphics meant to evoke the cheeky irreverence of “Deadpool” while diving into a painfully long first act told via a series of drawn out flashbacks. No-nonsense federal agent Amanda Waller (Violas Davis) makes a pitch for a black-ops team comprised of super-criminals to handle missions that more heroic metahumans can’t or won’t take on – especially ones that involve super-powered people gone rogue.

Her roster of “the worst of the worst” includes hitman/super-sharpshooter Deadshot (Will Smith), a deadbeat dad looking for redemption; psychiatrist-turned-psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), gangster’s moll to the notorious Joker (Jared Leto); El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a pyrokinetic former gang-banger turned pacifist; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a hulking brute with a scaly skin condition; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian jewel thief with an unexplained fetish for a unicorn plush toy; the Enchantress (Cara Delavigne), a millennia-old supernatural entity trapped in the body of the girlfriend of the team’s field commander, Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman); Flag’s sidekick Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a street samurai whose sword consumes the souls of her victims; and Slipknot (Adam Beach), a master of ropes (seriously) who shows up just long enough to get killed. (That last bit shouldn’t be considered a spoiler; he’s introduced and dispatch so quickly and haphazardly that he might as well have a caption reading “DEAD MEAT” over his head.)

The plot – what little there is of it – has the rest of the team sent on a rescue mission after Enchantress slips her leash and proceeds to run amok in the middle of a major city. They fight Lovecraft-lite blob zombies on the way to close a “Ghostbusters”-ian portal, while the Joker pops up here and there in a bid to re-unite with his long-lost puddin’. Batman makes a couple of cameo appearances.

Sadly, that’s pretty much the extent of it. The movie bumps along from one poorly staged action and badly edited sequence to the next in such a badly structured many that it starts to feel like a collection of cut scenes from a video game. It doesn’t help that the villain is a complete mis-match for the story and characters, especially given the presence of the Joker, which is kept to such a minimum that his presence becomes a distraction hinting at the better plot that could have been.

There’s the occasional half-hearted attempt at characterization and team bonding, but little of it pays off except for a third-act sequence when gang bellies up to a bar before the final battle; it’s a fun scene, but too little too late.

Surprisingly, a few of the performers manage to keep the stank off for the most part. Davis cuts a gloriously terrifying swathe as a cold-blooded bureaucrat who can stare down the devil and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Smith does what he does best: play Will Smith in a movie. Hernandez gets the most emotional heft in the film.

Robbie and Leto verge on hammy as the couple that embody the phrase “mad love”, but in a movie this obnoxious they can get away with it. (Harley is a hugely popular character, which is disturbing given her status as a puerile male fantasy of an abused and manipulated plaything.) Everyone else pretty much fades into the background most of the time, which is a shame in regards to Courtney, whose hooligan take on Boomerang hints at comedic relief left on the cutting room floor.

That’s “Suicide Squad” in a nutshell, too: hints of what could have been but was perplexingly left out. It’s a scattered, inconsistent mess. Warner Bros. really wanted this one to work. Ah well, maybe Wonder Woman won’t suck.