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Review: Sorry ‘Suicide Squad’ can’t save the day

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Bad guys. Bad movie.

“Suicide Squad” attempts to flip the superhero script by casting a team of baddies as its leads, and its irreverent attitude is meant to break up the tonal heaviness of the DC Comics Universe and inject some much-needed fun into the mix.

But it takes more than a lively neon pastel color palate and a jumpy, hyperactive soundtrack stuffed with pop hits (Eminem! Queen! Ozzy!) to create fun on screen, and “Suicide Squad” falls flat despite hopes that it would be the movie to save this summer of blockbuster bummers.

There are glimmers of what could have been in writer-director David Ayers’ slapdash comic adventure, specifically in Harley Quinn (a merry, cartoonishly maniacal Margot Robbie) and the Joker (Jared Leto), a pair of characters who could use their own standalone film yesterday.

Instead, “Suicide Squad” marks the latest high profile misfire from DC, whose rivalry with Marvel is beginning to look a bit like the Washington Generals taking on the Harlem Globetrotters. After the flameout of this year’s “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” and now “Suicide Squad,” the whole DC universe is in dire need of a reboot.

In “Suicide Squad,” a team of villains is assembled to take down an even bigger villain, thus making them sort-of good guys. The premise is rife for all sorts of devilish fun, since villains, by and large, make more interesting characters than heroes.

And “Suicide Squad” practically bashes viewers over the head with reminders that its leads are villains.

“We’re bad guys, it’s what we do!” says Quinn at one point after smashing a department store window, just because. Quinn is the star of “Suicide Squad,” in that she steals whatever momentum there is to steal.

Described as “a whole lot of pretty and a whole lot of crazy,” Quinn rocks blonde pigtails dyed red and blue, artfully smeared lipstick, a tattooed face (“rotten” is scrawled across her jawline) and carries herself like a gum-snapping fanboy fantasy come to life (in hot pants and a baseball tee, no less). If Harley Quinn isn’t one of the most popular Halloween costumes this year, something’s wrong.

But despite Robbie’s best efforts, Quinn — along with the rest of the “Squad” — feel like Halloween costumes at best.

Leto’s Joker is all costume and makeup; whatever personal touches Leto brings to the role are buried by a script that gives him nothing to do by making him a third-tier player. (It’s like he studied all night for a test, and all he had to do to pass was show up.)

Which is frustrating, because the Joker — thanks to iconic portrayals by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger — has become the modern era’s most delicious and sought after comic villain role. Audiences are conditioned to treat the Joker like a very big deal, and his sparing use here distracts from the story rather than helping it along.

Will Smith is given the most to work with as Deadshot, a master assassin who never misses a shot and is humanized by his love for his daughter. But Smith’s sympathetic eyes and heroic body language betray his villain billing, and you simply don’t ever buy him as a bad guy.

The rest of the “Squad” — which includes Jai Courtney as Aussie baddie Boomerang, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as half-man, half crocodile Killer Croc and Jay Hernandez as human flamethrower El Diablo — are simply bench players, along for the ride.

“How to Get Away With Murder’s” Viola Davis is the government official who assembles the Squad to take on the threat of metahumans, the technical term for mutants, the idea being that the next Superman could use his powers for evil, not good.

That’s what happens with Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a witch who summons some really bad spirits who start creating all sorts of havoc — the kind that involve mysterious clouds that hover above the skyline — in Gotham City.

The less said about the particulars of Enchantress and the Apocalypse-like enforcer she enlists to help him, the better, but it’s the film’s fatal flaw that in a movie about villains they couldn’t get an interesting villain for the Squad to fight against. (Somewhere, the Joker is raising his hand like, “I was available.”)

Ayers scored early in his career with a couple of street-level cop thrillers, including “Harsh Times” and “End of Watch,” but the comic book form doesn’t suit his style. A consistent tone is never established, the action is choppy and the climax reaches “Green Lantern” levels of embarrassment.

Sometimes it’s good to be bad. In “Suicide Squad’s” case, bad is just plain bad. It gives villainy a bad name.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Suicide Squad’

GRADE: C-

Rated PG-13: for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language

Running time: 130 minutes

Suicide Squad (PG-13)

A group of villains assemble to take on an even worse villain in this slapdash comic adventure that marks the latest misfire for the DC Comics universe. (130 minutes) GRADE: C-