(2020) (Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Action: A sociopath ends up joining forces with several other women to save the life of a young girl targeted by a ruthless gangster.
- Having recently been dumped by her arch-villain boyfriend The Joker, Gotham bad-girl Harley Quinn (MARGOT ROBBIE) no longer is afforded the benefit of no one wanting to mess with her. And having made plenty of enemies over the past years, she's now the target of many of them, including long-time detective Renee Montoya (ROSIE PEREZ) who now feels free to arrest her. But before that happens, Harley ends up saved by Helena Bertinelli, a.k.a. The Huntress (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD), a woman seeking revenge for those responsible for killing her mafia family when she was just a girl.
While certainly not the philanthropic type, Harley then pays it forward by giving some money to a young girl, Cassandra Cain (ELLA JAY BASCO), who she finds sitting in a stairwell while her step-parents verbally fight. Unbeknownst to Harley, the girl is a pickpocket and ends up stealing a long-lost diamond coveted by Gotham gangster Roman Sionis (EWAN McGREGOR) who's recently turned his nightclub singer, Dinah Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary (JURNEE SMOLLETT-BELL), into his personal driver after watching her more than ably defend an intoxicated Harley from two men.
Roman's sadistic right-hand goon, Victor Zsasz (CHRIS MESSINA), briefly has his hands on the gem, but then Cassandra steals it, gets arrested, and swallows the stone. Having been captured by Roman's men and facing death, Harley offers to find the girl and retrieve the diamond. All of which eventually leads to Harley, Helena, Dinah and then Renee joining forces to take on Roman's many goons, all to save Cassandra's life.
- OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
- While it's not something I hear every day, on more than one occasion I've heard people say that women can be just as raunchy, gross and disgusting as many men are often perceived to be. Maybe it's because of my age group, where I live and the women in my life, but I just don't see it.
Granted, I'm not privy to what goes on when no one else is around, so I guess it's always possible. But, for the most part, I seriously doubt women, as a whole, can go toe to toe with men when it comes to such behavior. And don't get me started on even worse behavior where, with some exceptions, men have an absolute grip on anti-social and criminal actions.
And in an admittedly non sequitur jump to another comparison -- that will make sense in a moment -- movies in the DC Comics movie universe don't come close, with a few exceptions, to what rival Marvel Studios routinely delivers. It's like they understand what they're supposed to be and do, but they just don't compare.
All of which brings us around to "Birds of Prey," a spin-off from DC's "Suicide Squad" flick from 2016 and which arrives with the awkward -- and likely rarely, if ever, to be used subtitle of "and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn." For those who saw or even remember that flick -- that tried hard but failed at matching what Marvel did with the star-studded "Avengers" pics -- about the only memorable thing was Margot Robbie's turn as the anti-social girlfriend to Jared Leto's Joker.
Looking like a cosplay character -- who likely spawned copycat imitators -- and commanding the screen with lots of swagger and devil-may-care attitude, Robbie's Harley Quinn was a sight to behold. And now she gets her own standalone flick -- and likely precursor to a full-on, all-female superhero team movie -- that makes the unwise and unfortunate mistake of aping Marvel's "Deadpool" character and pic.
Both are anti-hero characters who've lost a loved one (albeit for vastly different and thus important reasons to be discussed in a moment); don't play by the rules; use violence (sometimes shockingly) as a means to their ends; exist in a story that jumps around in time; and constantly break the fourth wall with a constant barrage of snarky and meta narration.
Alas, what worked so cleverly and imaginatively in "Deadpool" feels like a lesser imitation here anyway one looks at it. To make matters worse, for all of the gonzo material in the Ryan Reynolds film, there was heart behind it and thus a reason (including but not limited to losing his wife to violence, what happened to him in the past that left him scarred physically and emotionally, and his ultimate vulnerability in certain circumstances) to root for the title character despite his behavior.
Here, Quinn is nothing more than an over-the-top, R-rated cartoon character in a film that's not as clever or smart as director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson seem to think it is. Sure, she might be somewhat entertaining at times in short stretches, but the act -- as well as the overall film -- ends up feeling quite repetitive and both begin to wear out their welcome long before the end credits roll (at the end of which exists a tiny bit of bonus material not worthy of you sitting there waiting for it).
Yan tries to spruce things up by occasionally jumping back in time, mainly to introduce the rest of the "birds" in the form of Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli, a.k.a. Huntress; Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary; and Rosie Perez as Gotham detective Renee Montoya.
They all end up wrapped in the main plot of the flick's villain (Ewan McGregor, hamming it up as a guy who likes to have his victims' faces removed but gets grossed out by far lesser things) wanting to get his hands on a diamond that's worth more than its face value. Unfortunately for him, a young pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) has stolen and swallowed that gem, thus necessitating threats to cut her open for one side (including from the obligatory sadistic sicko number two villain -- played by Chris Messina), and talk of laxatives and such for the other.
Such is the attempted balance of comedy and violence that, if anything, at least has some decently choreographed and executed action scenes going for it. While there are some welcomed feminine touches to the material (including teamwork-based girl power in dealing with all of the literal bad guys) what's present just feels like nothing more than recycled and thus less savory leftovers of "Deadpool" style antics.
Perhaps if that film hadn't existed, this offering might feel novel and more fun. While it has its moments, I just wish all involved had done something to make the character and resultant film more creative and entertaining and give it at least a modicum of heart rather than coming off as a flamboyant cartoon. "Birds of Prey" rates as a 4 out of 10.
Reviewed February 5, 2020 / Posted February 7, 2020
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