The anticipated savior of a bummer summer turns out to be a grabbag of what's been off and awful about recent comic-book epics (Captain America: Civil War excepted). Suicide Squad wussies out when it should have been down with the Dirty Dozen of DC Comics. Audiences complained that Batman v Superman was too dark and depressing. So director-writer David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury) counters with light and candy-assed. I call bullshit.
You've never seen a more lovable team of death-row supervillains, hilariously dubbed "the worst of the worst." Viola Davis is actually scarier than any of these maniacs as Amanda Waller, the ethics-starved fed who corrals these killer "meta-humans" from Louisiana's Belle Reve prison to work for the good guys just in case of another alien invasion. Will Smith gets laughs as Deadshot — but should he? He's playing a heartless assassin. It turns out Smith's bad guy cares less about getting released from prison than getting his daughter into an Ivy League college. "I need you to 'white people' that thing," he says, Fresh Prince-ing his captors. And there's the usually irresistible Margot Robbie as the bat-wielding Harley Quinn, a shrink who turns deranged and deadly under the spell of the Joker (Jared Leto), the psycho she'd die for. "But would you live for me?" he asks. Leto's cackle really is chilling, but Ayer reduces his role to a glorified walk-on. And, hey, these crazy kids really do love each other. All together now: Awww.
The rest of the squad are introduced with all the resonance of a roll call: Jai Courney gets in a few early licks as the Aussie thief Boomerang, and then rarely comes back. As the tattooed Diablo, Jay Hernandez has the power to spew flames, but he's held back by — get this! — his conscience. Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje rises from the sewers as Killer Croc, a cannibal with a full-body skin condition that does the acting for him. And poor Adam Beach barely registers at all as the rope guru Slipknot.
Surprisingly, the actors on the "good" side fare marginally better, such as Joel Kinnaman as Col. Rick Flag, the conflicted Navy SEAL in charge of keeping the squad in line. Cara Delevingne starts promisingly as Flag's archaeologist love Dr. June Moone, but as soon as her spirit is corrupted she becomes the evil Enchantress and the film's reigning scourge. Say what? Is this Ghostbusters? Don't even try to navigate the logic at play here.
Though look closely at Karen Fukuhara as Katana, Flag's ninja second-in-command — her sword absorbs the soul of her victims. Who stole the soul of Suicide Squad? I'd say it's Ayer's willingness to go all limp-dick and compromise his hardcore action bona fides for a PG-13 crowdpleaser that would rather ingratiate than cut deep, or even cut at all. My heart sank during the film's big battle between the Squad and zombie soldiers. You heard me: zombies! The walking dead aren't the only clichés that eat away at the potential in this material. Superfreaks become supersweeties and Suicide Squad: Dawn of Dullness (my subtitle) does the impossible. Forget Batman v Superman — at least it tried. This botch job makes Fantastic Four look good.
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