Blah is the operative word for “Suicide Squad,” an anti-hero film in the superhero genre that was meant to pull DC Comics out of its cinematic doldrums following the tepid response to “Batman v Superman.”
Not so much bad as it is disappointing, “Suicide Squad” – which assembles DC’s baddest of its stable of villains – starts off with a bang as it creatively introduces each member of the squad that the U.S. government recruits to keep the country safe from meta humans that want to do them harm. From there, the film sadly devolves into the formulaic stuff we’ve seen in countless times in the genre.
Writer-director David Ayer has good intentions as he clearly tries to go with the R-rated vibe that made Marvel bad boy “Deadpool” a massive hit earlier this year.
The difference is, the subversive anti-hero was given free rein to trounce the landscape with his F-bomb-laced dialogue and ultra violence, while “Suicide Squad” remains confined to the limiting PG-13 rating.
As a result, the Suicide Squad, including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith) and their band of maniacal misfits are left to operate in a familiar environment against one of the weakest supervillians in superhero movie memory.
The person who plays the villain — who will remain unnamed to avoid any spoilers — simply does not have the acting chops or presence to make the ultimate throwdown memorable enough. In fact, the performance is so silly at times that it may qualify the person for a Razzie nomination come year’s end.
Lost in shuffle is The Joker (Jared Leto), whose turn as the Clown Prince of Gotham is supporting at best. Spending most of the movie trying to spring his girlfriend and partner-in-crime Harley Quinn loose, The Joker’s time would have been much better served as the supervillain the Suicide Squad ran up against instead of a thorn in their side.
Leto gives it his best with a combo Heath Ledger-Jack Nicholson read of the iconic character (with more of an emphasis on Nicholson), but in the end falls far short on both accounts. He’s good, but doesn’t nearly live up to the hype of the months-long publicity of his take on the iconic character leading up to the release of the film.
Thankfully, Viola Davis, who plays the head of the secret government organization who assembles the Suicide Squad, and Robbie, who is clearly having a blast playing Harley Quinn, pick up the slack to combat some of the weaknesses. Still, it’s just not enough to save the movie.
All told, “Suicide Squad” will go down as one of the biggest letdowns of 2016.
Hear Tim’s review of “Suicide Squad” with Tom Barnard and the “KQ92 Morning Show,” beginning at 10 minutes in.
Will Smith’s career is back in focus with “Concussion,” the compelling true story of revered pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) and his earth-shattering discovery that connected severe brain damage – diagnosed and termed as chronic traumatic enchepolapthy (CTE) – to repeated concussions in NFL players. Based in Pittsburgh, Omalu first made the correlation after the untimely death of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster (a barely recognizable David Morse), and the subsequent deaths of other NFL players.
Not surprisingly, NFL officials don’t want to confront the issue, and do their best to discredit Omalu and his colleagues to protect its vast business interests. The supporting cast is stellar, including strong performances by Albert Brooks as famed pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht and Alec Baldwin as former Steelers team physician Dr. Julian Bailes – who helped Omalu convince the NFL of the problem. Save a horribly miscast Luke Wilson as current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, “Concussion” is a riveting, must-see movie whether you’re a fan of the NFL or not.
“The Big Short” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Director Adam McKay impressively steps away from his normal world of Will Ferrell comedy fare and channels the filmmaking expertise of Martin Scorsese in the process with “The Big Short” – a searing portrait of four groups of Wall Street outsiders who envisioned the burst of the housing bubble in 2008 and tried to stick it to the big banks in the process.
In their turns as the outsiders, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling are at their best, and Steve Carell continues to impress in yet another stunning dramatic turn on the heels of his Oscar-nominated role in “Foxcatcher” last year. Moving at b
reakneck pace throughout, “The Big Short” contains lots of complex Wall Street jargon, but McKay creatively works in star cameos to break things down in layman’s terms. The film, while entertaining in the way it is presented, is infuriating at the same time.
“Daddy’s Home” (PG-13) 3 stars out of four
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg reteam after the hilarious romp “The Other Guys” with “Daddy’s Home,” a wonderfully sweet comedy about a doting yet hapless step-father (Ferrell) who must deal with the return of the children’s far cooler biological dad (Wahlberg). We’ve seen both actors play these sorts of roles before, but familiarity aside, there’s no question the pairing works wonders here as the two dads engage in a nasty game of one-upsmanship to win the affection of the kids and their mother. “Daddy’s Home” is far from perfect, but it’s an enjoyable movie nonetheless.
It’s not a full recovery, but Will Smith is definitely looking sharp again following his sci-fi disaster “After Earth” with “Focus,” a con-game thriller that’s fuzzy around the edges but overall comes out a winner.
Smith plays Nicky, the head of a pick-pocket ring who recruits Jess (Margot Robbie) to become a part of his crew after she unsuccessfully tries to pull a con on him at a hotel. A quick study, Jess also falls for Nicky at the same time, and the expert and protégé soon become lovers.
After using her in an elaborate con that takes a wealthy gambler for a ride through the power of suggestion, Nicky unceremoniously dumps Jess, only to cross paths with her three years later as he launches a plan for the biggest swindle of his life. The problem is, Nicky seems to still have feelings for his old love, which only complicates his scheme – and naturally, things can turn deadly if everything doesn’t go off just right.
Co-writers and directors Glenn Ficcara and John Requa have the wheels constantly turning in “Focus,” which not surprisingly as a con-artist movie has plot twists bubbling under the surface the entire time. And while the payoff takes a bit of time to unfold, it’s still fun trying to figure out exactly what kind of con is going to be pulled off and who exactly is going to execute it, even if it’s done in a cold and calculated manner.
While the ultimate con is fully explained by the end of “Focus,” the big mystery that remains for audiences is how Nicky and Jess in reality could possibly even like one other, considering the mean-spirited stunts each of them will employ to get and stay ahead in the game. But as a movie couple, Smith and Robbie (Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in “The Wolf of Wall Street”) definitely work well together, which ultimately makes us suckers because we want to root for them despite their major flaws. In a way, the con in “Focus” is much more on the audience than it is the people marked for swindle in the film.
“The Lazarus Effect” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Stupid human characters aside — almost a prerequisite for horror movies — the new back-from-the-dead thriller “The Lazarus Effect” is good for what it is. An amalgam of several different scary movies and mind-bending thrillers, “Lazarus” gets it life from a good cast and examination of concepts not often found in your average horror movie.
Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass star as Zoe and Frank, who along with fellow scientists Niko (Donald Glover) and Clay (“American Horror Story” standout Evan Peters) are working on a serum that is meant sustain brain function in clinically dead patients while they are being revived.
While experimenting on a dead dog, the team discovers that the substance – dubbed the “Lazarus Serum” – not only sustains brain function but enhances it, gives the animal powers that can’t fully be explained. Despite the obvious risks, Frank uses the serum on Zoe after she is electrocuted in a follow-up experiment, spawning frightening, unintended consequences that not only endanger Zoe, but her fellow scientists.
“The Lazarus Effect” seems to borrow its inspiration from several different movies, from “Flatliners,” “Pet Sematary” and “The Shining,” to any number of Freddy Krueger’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies and “X-Men: The Last Stand” — as Zoe’s behavior tends to mimic Dark Phoenix during her fits of uncontrollable fury.
More than anything, though, “The Lazarus Effect” examines, like in the Scarlett Johansson summer blockbuster “Lucy,” the potential of the brain’s power if used beyond 10 percent of its capacity.
The result is much less outlandish than the lengths we see in “Lucy,” as Zoe not only can move items and read other people’s thoughts, but manage to possess people’s minds to the extent that they’re placed in the nightmare that’s been haunting her since she was a child. The notion the film examines is that hell after death is essentially the person’s worst nightmare suffered during their life — and Zoe is trapped in it because the Lazarus Serum prevented her from dying and passing through the gateway to the other side.
Aside from a big twist and the mind-bending aspects of the narrative, “The Lazarus Effect” on the whole is fairly predictable. There are plenty of jump-out-at-you moments (some you will see coming, others will take you off-guard), and the naturally, the door is left open for a sequel. Despite its faults, horror fans will still likely get a charge of “The Lazarus Effect,” which is mostly void of blood and gore because of its PG-13 rating. Ultimately, “The Lazarus Effect” is sort of a thinking person’s horror movie, even though its characters do the dumbest things imaginable in the name of science.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers