“The Suicide Squad” – ★ ★ ½
Here comes a subversive super-antihero action movie that revels in explosive nihilism and crazy genre anarchy, constantly shifting narrative gears between an alien invasion thriller, a zombie-esque horror tale, a darker-than-black comedy, a formula war film, and a Grand Guignol splatter extravaganza with homages to Daniel Mann’s “Willard” and even Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters.”
That’s a lot to process.
So, writer/director James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” allows us more than enough time (132 hard-earned minutes) to absorb all this loopy, goofy exercise in sick humor and dubious taste.
“They’re dying to save the world” makes for a memorable marketing slogan for “The Suicide Squad,” but a more accurate one would be “No Lives Matter.”
We learn this early as the movie opens with the ruthless A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, taking her character way too seriously) springing a killer named Savant (former Chicago actor Michael Rooker) from Belle Reve prison for her Task Force X suicide mission.
His entire platoon (including Pete Davidson in a virtual cameo) is nearly wiped out on a tropical beach, setting up the disposability of every character to follow in her next suicide mission, set on the fictional island nation of Corto Maltese off the coast of South America.
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A coup has put military leaders in control of a prison where horrible, inhuman experiments were conducted by Nazis. Now, the place is home to Project Starfish, a bizarre program featuring a humongous one-eyed starfish alien creature that dispatches zillions of tiny flying starfish apparently given combat training by the face-huggers in “Alien.”
Who can stop them?
Idris Elba brings expected gravitas to his coldblooded mercenary Bloodsport, a weapons master dealing with a teen daughter who despises him. He’s joined by the disturbed Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who hurls tiny colored discs out of his body when he’s not projecting the stern face of his mother (Lynne Ashe) onto all the women he sees.
A hilariously studly John Cena brings square-jawed appeal to a cheaply attired Captain America knock-off, totally misnamed Peacemaker.
The group gets rounded out by Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) with the power to summon rodents at will, plus the movie’s least credible comic character, Shark Man (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), who’s apparently mastered the ability to breathe without gills and can only speak in baby chatter.
Margot Robbie dominates her third movie as Harley Quinn. With her homicidal doll-like essence (a mash-up of “Bride of Chucky” and a demented Barbie), Robbie crackles with sexy, kinky, killer charisma.
The trash-compacted “The Suicide Squad” — a do-over of David Ayers’ critically skewered “Suicide Squad” — will doubtlessly be a huge hit for DC fans grateful for an edgy non-Wonder-Woman movie that takes Gunn’s Marvel space comedy “Guardians of the Galaxy” to even more ridiculous and certifiably adult extremes.
This “B”-picture with a stylish “A” treatment is a showy, cinematic bauble, like a Christmas tree ornament: shiny and brightly colored, but hollow and thin.
Gunn delights in the grotesque and the gross. He goes for exploitative sensationalism at the cost of genuine emotional moments. (Does anyone really feel bad for Bloodsport’s poor family relations?)
Several references to murdered children don’t fit comfortably in a cynical cartoon that cavalierly employs cruelty, violence and death for comic effect. (Shark Man ripping a person in half the long way is a showstopper for sure.)
Glib, sassy, silly and stupid, “The Suicide Squad” is a trippy tale that dances on the precipices of moral bankruptcy. Is this the movie our pandemic-weary world needs right now?