Review of “Suicide Squad”

Concerned the growing population of metahumans could become a threat to national security, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) suggests creating a team of supervillains called Task Force X. They would be sent out on the most dangerous assignments and, if things went bad, be disavowed by the government. Initially reluctant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is convinced when archeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) releases the ancient witch that inhabits her called Enchantress and steals top secret documents from Iran in an instant. The team is comprised of the residents of the highest security prisons because they are the worst of the worst: The assassin known as Deadshot (Will Smith), the crazy yet deadly Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), jewel thief and all around bad guy Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic street gang killer El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), assassin and expert at climbing anything Slipknot (Adam Beach). The person put in charge of Task Force X is Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman). By his side is a Japanese assassin known as Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Wielding a sword that traps the souls of its victims, Katana will act as Flagg’s bodyguard. Also for security, each criminal member of the squad is implanted with a micro explosive in their necks. Should they turn against the team or try to escape, their head will be blown off. If dealing with all the crazies in Task Force X isn’t enough to give Flagg nightmares, Harley Quinn’s psychotic supervillain boyfriend the Joker (Jared Leto) is looking for a way to get her back by his side. When Midway City is under attack from a super powered foe, Task Force X is deployed to retrieve a powerful person from a high rise building. Will the team of bad guys be able to stick together long enough to complete their mission? Will they all be decapitated by the explosives in their necks? Will Harley Quinn ever see the pale face and green hair of her puddin’ ever again?

“Suicide Squad” has been ripped to shreds by the real critics. It has been called dull, slipshod, overblown, overstuffed and just plain bad. One reviewer even referred to DC as the Donald Trump of blockbusters. That is harsh! Here’s the thing…I apparently didn’t see the same movie as the majority of critics as I found “Suicide Squad” to be a great deal of fun with a plot that, while at times overly convoluted and under explained, moves at a pleasant pace and filled with several characters that are appealing in various ways. In short, I really liked “Suicide Squad.”

“Short” is the word for this review as I don’t want to give anything away. There are plot points that have been kept under pretty tight wraps that I don’t want to spoil for anyone that hasn’t seen the movie yet. Let me say this much: The film has some problems in the way the story is laid out. Events near the middle don’t make a great deal of sense and there are some issues of timing, as in when some orders are given and how they relate to the big bad of the story. Maybe they were trying to keep the running time down to something reasonable at just over two hours but a bit more explanation would have helped make the story more coherent.

This will be a bit of a spoiler but I also had an issue with which members of the team don’t make it to the end of the film. One of the squad became a personal favorite as the movie progressed. He starts out as a fairly well rounded character with a backstory revealed late in the film. His worth to the team is questioned and he displays what he can do, gaining the team’s admiration. He is also pivotal to the conclusion and he gets killed. Meanwhile, another member of the team is pretty much useless and his actions lead to a second member getting the explosive in his neck set off. He doesn’t do much and is largely comic relief (and precious little of that). Perhaps one of those that don’t make it was selected to provide as much emotional punch as possible while the other is just to let the audience know there are high stakes for not following the rules. Whatever the reason, I would have liked to have seen one of these two lost squad members make it to the next film, if there is one.

While the team is led by Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the Queen of “Suicide Squad.” Her performance mixes the crazy, silly and dangerous in roughly equal amounts. Harley is a sexpot that will kill you for ogling her despite her dressing in short-shorts and a skin-tight t-shirt. She is as deadly with her hands as with a gun or her trusty baseball bat. Always looking for a way to reconnect with the Joker, Harley is truly the wild card of Task Force X. Robbie seems to be having far more fun in her role than anyone else. While Harley’s trademark Brooklyn accent is at best fleeting, Robbie still manages to embody the best and worst aspects of the Joker’s former psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel.

The rest of the cast isn’t given much of an opportunity to shine the way Robbie is. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc gets a few good lines and a chance to be heroic while Will Smith plays more of a father-figure to both the team and the young daughter he hopes to see once again. Cara Delevingne plays her dual role as Dr. June Moone/Enchantress in two modes: Frightened and horror movie kitsch. Neither is terribly entertaining. The rest of the cast is fine. Jared Leto’s Joker is teased in the trailers as a major character but in fact is more of a bit part. His actions are pivotal to some parts of the plot but otherwise he’s just a flashy cameo.

A few words about the Joker: After Heath Ledger’s performance as the clown prince of crime in “The Dark Knight,” taking on the role of Joker for the next actor was going to be a thankless job that could only be compared unfavorably to what came before. While Leto certainly puts his own spin on the villain it can only pale in comparison to Ledger’s masterful, grounded yet clearly damaged Joker. Perhaps if he is the main villain in Ben Affleck’s solo Batman movie we’ll get a better chance to judge is green-haired lunatic. As it stands right now, the jury is still out as to whether Leto is a worthy successor.

“Suicide Squad” is rated PG-13 for disturbing behavior, action throughout, language, sequences of violence and suggestive content. All of the suggestive content involves Harley and that is all pretty mild. There are various acts of violence committed against humans and non-humans. We see one member of the squad get his head blown off by the explosive implanted in the neck. It isn’t terribly graphic but you know what happens. A couple of helicopters and fighter jets get taken down by various means. Foul language is fairly common but is no worse than the word s**t.

Perhaps I’m judging “Suicide Squad” against the last entry into the DCEU, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I found that film to be plodding, dull and devoid of joy. By comparison, “Suicide Squad” is like a springtime meadow full of brightly colored flowers and playful puppies. It moves at a brisk pace and is a great deal of fun. It even has a couple of good guy cameos just to let us know the two films are connected. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to find the flaws as devastating as the real critics. See it yourself and make up your own mind but, despite the problems, I liked it.

“Suicide Squad” gets four stars out of five.

Three new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Florence Foster Jenkins—

Pete’s Dragon—

Sausage Party—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Run All Night”

No matter how good your relationship is with your parents, at some point most people have had a rough patch dealing with the authority figures in your life. Whether it was the length of your hair, your choice of friends, a perceived lack of initiative or ignoring your studies, all of us have had arguments with a mom or dad. My father thought I was lazy and he was right. I preferred watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating a giant bowl of cereal over going out to play or help with the household repairs he always seemed to be doing. While we never had an actual argument our relationship was a bit standoffish until I got my first job while in high school. I believe it was then my father saw I wasn’t lazy, just interested in different things. The fathers and sons featured in this week’s movie “Run All Night” are at different points in their relationships; but ultimately it comes down to the love and protective spirit one man has for his son that leads to a great deal of death.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) used to be a feared hit man for mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Now the man who used to be called Gravedigger is seen as a washed up old drunk who is only kept around because of his long-time ties to Maguire. Maguire’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is looking to expand his role in the family business by working out a deal with the Albanian mob to move heroin into the country. Shawn Maguire turns down the deal but Danny has already accepted money from the Albanians and they want it back. Mike Conlon (Joel Kinnaman) is Jimmy’s estranged son. He knows what his dad did for a living and wants nothing to do with him. Mike has a wife and two little girls with a baby boy on the way. To make ends meet, Mike drives for a limo service and tonight his passengers are the Albanian mobsters who are headed to Danny’s house to get their money. Mike is waiting outside in the limo when he hears shots and sees Danny shoot one of the Albanians in the head. The second one is dead inside Danny’s house. Danny, who knows Mike, yanks him out of the car at gunpoint and plans on killing him but after a brief struggle Mike gets away, leaving his wallet behind in the process. Danny calls his father and explains what happened who then calls Jimmy. Jimmy heads to Mike’s house and tries to talk to him about what to do next by Mike doesn’t want to hear it and tells Jimmy to leave. Meanwhile, Danny sneaks into Mike’s house just as Jimmy leaves. Danny has the gun pointed at Mike but Jimmy, who saw Danny’s car parked outside, shoots and kills him. Jimmy calls Shawn and tells him what happened. Shawn tells Jimmy they are both going to die for killing his son. Jimmy knows Shawn is paying off several cops so they can’t call the police for help. Jimmy convinces Mike to trust him for once in his life to keep him alive and try to fix the situation. Shawn is only out for revenge and brings in high-tech hit man Andrew Price (Common) at double his rate to take out Jimmy and Mike.

Once again, Liam Neeson is playing a man with a certain set of skills in “Run All Night” only this one is more used up than his “Taken” character. Unable to sleep due to the memories of all the people he’s killed, Conlon is a man haunted by all of his past, including leaving Mike and his mother many years earlier. While he did it to protect them, Conlon wishes he could have it all to do over again so maybe he could get it closer to right. Since no one gets a second chance, Jimmy must make the best of the situation. Neeson is spot on in “Run All Night.” His pain and remorse added to what is probably a fair amount of self-pity leads Jimmy to look for relief in a bottle. Neeson knows about pain and loss with the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009. Some of that grief must color his acting in more serious roles. Neeson’s world weary face is more than capable of conveying a sense of hopelessness and defeat. It is also able to turn on a dime to show determination and a fair amount of menace. Neeson has cornered the market in the genre of films featuring a middle-aged man still being able to kick ass and take names. While a few others have done it before (Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis to name two) none has done it better than or as believably as Neeson.

Ed Harris has the kind of intense gaze that would curdle milk. He puts it to good use in “Run All Night.” His Shawn Maguire tells the Albanians that he is a legitimate businessman who has left his gangster days behind. Considering all the armed men around him and his son in a back room counting up thousands of dollars of cash, his statement would appear to be a bit of an exaggeration. Harris is a great actor and is able to easily pull off his somewhat dual role as both a ruthless criminal and a caring friend to Jimmy and father to Danny. Jimmy and Shawn grew up together running the streets of their neighborhood and are as close as brothers. Even though Jimmy isn’t of much use to Shawn, he keeps him around and throws some money his way out of a sense of loyalty and family. Nothing can break that bond except the death of Shawn’s son. It is this event that turns both men into enemies and brings out their dangerous killer instincts. Harris is like a pressure cooker: While he appears calm on the outside, inside there is turmoil, heat and death waiting to burst forth. Harris plays the part to perfection and is able to deliver menace, hate and fear in his performance.

Joel Kinnaman is somewhat disappointing as Mike. His performance is rather one-note. Mike is constantly angry at his father even as he’s risking his life to save him. Kinnaman, who is so good in the former AMC show “The Killing” as a police detective, appears to have his hands tied as far as his performance. Kinnaman plays Mike like a spoiled brat who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. While I certainly understand the initial anger at his father, Mike should have come around to at least a begrudging respect for his old man. Unfortunately, every discussion they have about the past is filled with Mike’s anger over Jimmy not being there and his disgust at the things Jimmy has done. Again, some of this is understandable to a point; however, Kinnaman keeps the anger turned up to 11 for far too long. Of course, this is more of a complaint about the script than the actor; but I still thought Kinnaman was probably the weakest character.

A character I’d like to have seen more of is Det. John Harding played by Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio, who is always interesting to watch, is underutilized in the film. While the movie isn’t about him, Det. Harding does play a pivotal role and is something of an ally to Jimmy despite being on the opposite side of the law. D’Onofrio is an actor that makes you pay attention to his character. His intensity and focus draws in the audience and we hang on his every word. D’Onofrio will play King Pin on the Netflix and Marvel “Daredevil” series. Aside from the stunts, he will probably be the most interesting aspect of that show.

There are a few stylistic things about the movie that both struck my eye and struck a nerve. First, as the film moves from one scene to the next, we are given a graphic depiction of the change of location with Google Earth-like zoom outs and zoom ins of buildings. If you have vertigo or are easily made motion sick, this might trigger an episode. While the first few times were interesting, it quickly began to felt like a visual gimmick that had overstayed its welcome. Also, the movie has a strange fascination with elevated trains. Several scenes start and end on the mass transit system. We also get scene transitions that show the trains moving through the city. Again, this is alright a time or two but after that it seems like the New York transit authority must have paid the movie makers to show off the trains as much as possible. It struck me as a bit odd.

Also troubling is the level of coincidence required to start the plot in motion. The Albanians have to rent a limo that is driven by Jimmy’s son. These same Albanians are doing business with Shawn’s son. Given the number of car services in New York City, the possibility of Mike getting the job seems like a statistical stretch. I’m willing to accept lots of things in movies but this seemed like a step too far.

Of course, a movie like “Run All Night” lives and dies by the action scenes. The movie does a great job of building up tension during a scene like a car chase in downtown New York. There is also the cat and mouse aspect of the police and Common’s hit man searching an apartment building for Jimmy and Mike. “Run All Night” is full of scenes like this and that makes it a very good action movie.

“Run All Night” is rated R for Strong Violence, Language Including Sexual References, and Some Drug Use. There are numerous beatings, shootings, strangulations and stabbings in the film. Nearly all are shown clearly. There are at least two scenes showing a powder being cut with a razorblade and then snorted. The only sexual material is a couple of scenes where a character describes what he would do to another’s wife. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Liam Neeson could be accused of making the same movie over and over again; however, there are enough differences between the “Taken” films and “Run All Night” to make that latter film unique. It takes a good look at the sacrifices fathers are willing to make for their children. It also shows how the past can come back to life in an instant to make the present difficult to navigate. While it doesn’t invent a new type of movie, “Run All Night” is able to do most of the things it attempts well and creates a world of interesting characters doing interesting things.

“Run All Night” gets four stars out of five.

As always, new films open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them and you can check out their trailers below:

Divergent Series: Insurgent—

The Gunman—

What We Do In The Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send questions or comments to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.