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Movie review: Robbie shines in otherwise repetitious ‘Suicide Squad’

Margot Robbie makes her debut as Harley Quinn, a strong woman who turns to mush in the presence of her “Puddin” (the Joker) in "Suicide Squad."
Margot Robbie makes her debut as Harley Quinn, a strong woman who turns to mush in the presence of her “Puddin” (the Joker) in "Suicide Squad." Courtesy

It’s Harley Quinn’s movie and everybody else in “Suicide Squad” is just a supporting character.

No surprise there. That’s the way it is in the comic books, too.

It’s all about personality, and Harley has that by the freight carload. Coy, comical and completely crazed, she outshines everyone in the DC universe, and Margo Robbie, who plays her in “Suicide Squad,” expertly occupies every naughty niche in her convoluted psyche.

This is a strong, sexy woman who struts and preens in tattered fishnets, spiky stilettos, a spangly blue and red bikini bottom and tight T-shirt inscribed with the legend “Daddy’s Lil Monster.” She’s a person with no shame and no limits to her zany evilness. Yet in the presence of her “Puddin” — her pet name for the Joker — she turns into a puddle of mush. She’s the abused and battered victim of love in that toxic twosome, mad for the boy who is just plain mad. But not very interestingly so.

Heath Ledger remains the gold standard of movie Jokers with his portrayal of a fiend whose shiver-inducing twistedness ran soul deep. Jared Leto’s Joker in “Suicide Squad” is all on the surface: green hair and a mouthful of steely teeth. He’s a gargoyle, almost ornamental, popping in and out of the story from time to time, contributing little more than maniacal laughter and a demented smile. In a movie full of villainous characters, he does not stand out.

That’s part of “Squad’s” problem: It’s overfull of meanies. The squad is a collection of the “the worst of the worst” of DC’s rogue’s gallery of miscreants assembled by a merciless bureaucrat named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to take on the kinds of super villains that used to be the province of Superman. But with him deceased (there’s a flashback to his funeral cortege scene in “Batman v Superman”), extreme measures are called for.

The overabundance of baddies obliges writer-director David Ayer (“Fury”) to spend an inordinate amount of time introducing everybody and sketching their back stories. So the movie is slow to achieve liftoff. And other than Harley, and Deadshot,” the sharpshooting assassin played by Will Smith, there’s not that much there there to most of these characters.

Smith’s handling of Deadshot, full of quips and humanized by tender feelings for his young daughter, likely signals the resurrection of his lately stalled career. In the unaccustomed position as a member of an ensemble, he reclaims the engaging mojo that made him a superstar.

When Ayer finally helicopters the squad into battle, the picture’s other big flaw becomes apparent. The supposed super villains they fight (there are two) are rather less than super. One is an armored giant who extrudes deadly tentacles while the other is a woman with glowing eyes whose main superpower seems to be dispensing CG lightning zaps while doing a mean shimmy in a black bikini.

In a year overloaded with comic book movies, “Suicide Squad” just seems like more of the same. Fans hoping for a picture that breaks the mold in the manner of “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Deadpool” are likely to be disappointed.

Suicide Squad

out of 5

Cast: Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman.

Director: David Ayer.

Running time: 2:03.

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

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