Those teases were just that. The actual “Suicide Squad” film is a mess, one salvaged by two stars who deserve far better.
So do we.
Weak dialogue, near incoherent storytelling and a seriously dull enemy all but sink the latest DC Comics film.
Had “Suicide Squad” arrived before our superhero golden age, it might be a watchable misfire. Compare it to Christopher Nolan’s Bat trilogy or most Marvel movies? It falls hopelessly flat.
The film opens with dizzying introduction to the culture’s latest anti-heroes. The snippets are breezy and brief, and we hunker down hoping the film will expand on their curious gifts.
Superman is gone, which we watched during the waning moments of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Government power player Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) fears the planet has lost its greatest defender.
She has a curious backup plan. Enlist some of the worst supervillains lurking in prison and spring them should a new threat emerge. Dangle reduced sentences, and they might just make amends by saving the planet.
Before the film’s umpteenth classic rock song can play, we see just such a threat take shape. So Amanda’s unorthodox plan whirs to life.
The supervillains include Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin who nevers misses. He’s a vicious killer who goes all mushy when it comes to his precious young daughter.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is a former psychiatrist who fell for her very worst patient. Yes, the Joker is back, courtesy of Oscar winner Jared Leto. Only he’s barely in the film.
Spoiler alert? Nah. You should know that going in.
The rest of the crew includes the fiery El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) andCroc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). And then there’s Joel Kinnaman, who is making a career of choosing roles that waste his talent. He plays Rick Flag, the agent charged with keeping this “Squad” in check.
Any snippet from Kinnaman’s “The Killing” is far superior to what he’s given here.
There’s more, much more! More characters! More lame quips! More dull action scenes shot in darkness that lack the snap of “Deadpool,” the muscular grace of “The Avengers.”
Robbie still stands out, and not just for her otherworldly genetic gifts.
“That’s a whole lotta pretty and a whole lotta crazy,” someone mutters about her Harley Quinn. Her crazy shtick wears thin all the same. It’s just a series of, “wouldn’t it be cool if I did this?” moments that never coalesce into a real character.
So what mortal threat does the team face? It’s so embarrassingly dull you won’t find it described here. If they put so little effort into crafting it … why bother?
Director David Ayer may be our most creatively bipolar talent. He’s delivered shockingly good stories (“End of Watch”) and pure embarrassments (“Sabotage”).
“Suicide Squad” leans toward the latter.
The story is a chore to figure out beyond the basic beats. Logical fallacies leap off the screen like a 3D movie.
How lazy is the storytelling? A key plot twist happens after a character finds a folder marked “Top Secret.” It might as well have read, “‘Suicide Squad’ Script Deficiencies: Vol. 1.”
The trailers suggested a barrage of witty one-liners, but we only get a few. Instead, the characters keep repeating, “we’re the bad guys” and other brilliant observations.
FAST FACT: The Joker has never officially been a member of the DC Comics’ “Suicide Squad.”
Smith gets handed an unlikely backstory involving his parental duties. He magically makes the most of it, even if his character’s abilities are far from mesmerizing. He’s a great marksman. Whoa.
Smith is in full movie star mode here, as if no one told him it’s an ensemble film.
The other “heroes” are hopelessly one note. You could make fun of how ineffective Croc is here. He mostly grunts and growls to no real purpose. Then again, Vin Diesel gave life his animated character in “Guardians of the Galaxy” by repeating “I am … Groot.”
Worst of all, “Suicide Squad” never quite finds its tone. Are these genuine monsters, or just naughty trouble makers? They’re killers, right? But sometimes they act like heroes. A better script would thread that tiny needle.
Leto’s Joker is a grease-painted Scarface. With his slick hair and muscular chest peeking out from various gangster ensembles, we never see why he bothered to show up.
Those “Suicide Squad” trailers packed plenty of classic rock staples. Very, very cool. The movie does the same until you’ll think you’re watching a jukebox musical. “Guardians” incorporated its loopy ’70s soundtrack far better.
Here, it’s merely a sonic crutch, and it shows.
“Suicide Squad” isn’t just vexing. It’s the summer’s biggest disappointment.
HiT or Miss: Ratchet down those expectations, comic book fans. Those spectacular “Suicide Squad” trailers were the whole show.
DON’T THINK TWICE
Improv groups can create great comedy, but there’s always a moment where the jokes haven’t quite developed yet.
“Don’t Think Twice” is the cinematic equivalent of those awkward beats. It’s difficult to watch but irresistibly entertaining all the same.
Writer/director Mike Birbiglia’s second film shows both maturation and an ability to make us care for some pretty flawed figures.
Birbiglia stars as Miles, part of a New York improv group dubbed The Commune. They work in a tiny Big Apple studio and endure part-time jobs just to pay the bills.
Their life isn’t pretty by conventional standards. Tiny, shared apartments. Precious little spending money. And they wouldn’t give it up for anything. They have their art … and each other.
Besides, there’s always a chance a producer from “Weekend Live,” the signature sketch show of the era, could be at the next performance. Each prays to be discovered, but when one Commune regular gets chosen it sends the rest of the troupe into an emotional tailspin.
Birbiglia gathers a strong ensemble cast, but the comic standout is Keegan Michael-Key. The “Key & Peele” funnyman handles his character’s evolution with a generous sense of proportion. Sure, he can steal a scene with one daffy expression.
We knew that going in.
He’s just as good trying to process his evolving relationship with fellow Commune member Samantha (“Love’s” Gillian Jacobs).
Are these Peter Pan types, refusing to grow up by clinging to their improv group? Or does the Commune reflect people who shirk modern conventions and simply do what they love, ignoring societal expectations?
A subplot involving a sick family member feels contrived, but it effectively shows a potent side of this ensemble.
Birbiglia’s confidence as a storyteller is all over “Don’t Think Twice.” He doesn’t mind showing the ugliness lurking beneath these funny people. And he stages the improv moments with an eye toward not just humor but crisp composition.
It’s hard not to wish the film’s sketch moments drew bigger laughs, but maybe that’s the point. Improv doesn’t always deliver belly laughs. Part of its charm is watching inventive play bloom before our eyes. The joy is in the discovery as much as the finished product.
Discovering “Don’t Think Twice” will make you long to see more Birbiglia movies. You might even check out your local improv group, if only to imagine their lives away from the stage.
HiT or Miss: Comic-turned-auteur Mike Birbiglia shows he understands the tricky balance between tragedy and comedy in his smart second feature.