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"The Suicide Squad" hurls so much blood and gore you may feel like hosing your eyeballs

The Suicide Squad

Starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi and Alice Braga. Written and directed by James Gunn. Opens Friday at theatres everywhere. 132 minutes.14A


Peter Howell

Movie Critic

It makes perfect sense the movie branch of DC Comics would want to filch James Gunn from rival Marvel Comics to retool its under-achieving “Suicide Squad” flick of five summers ago.

Writer/director Gunn is the Dr. Frankenstein of genre filmmaking, a Troma-honed comic technician who gathers up discarded or misused characters and zaps new life into them. He stitched and spun the rejects of his superhero satire “Guardians of the Galaxy” into box-office gold, with two blockbuster films to date and a third in the works.

Gunn fetches the bolt cutters, flame throwers and splatter guns for his “Suicide Squad” reboot, working from the reasonable premise that almost nothing is sacred when you’re dealing with super-villains.

Subtle this picture ain’t. Campy and horrifying by turns, it hurls so much blood and viscera onto the big screen you may feel like hosing out your eyeballs after watching it. Scene changes are indicated by giant letters spelled out with blood, fire or smoke.

The 14A rating in Ontario is surprising, since the large amount of killing and profanity is something found more in restricted films and “hard R” ones at that.

Plot-wise, Gunn retains the basic concept of David Ayer’s original movie — an insanely clownish posse of freaks and villains is sprung from jail to save the world from a bigger threat — while dropping most of the characters and the actors who played them, among them Will Smith’s Deadshot and Jared Leto’s Joker. (Gunn adds a few things, too, including a “The” in front of the movie’s title.)

Shaking up the squad is a risky move, although bets are wisely hedged by retaining Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the happily homicidal harlequin. A fan favourite, she has traded her baseball bat for a more lethal spear, all the better to pierce eyeballs, skulls and hearts. One of her killing sprees is accompanied by the soundtrack ditty “Just a Gigolo (I Ain’t Got Nobody),” Louis Prima’s song of cynical insouciance.

Harley carries on as if nothing happened from one movie to the next although, for the viewer, it’s a bit like turning out to see a beloved rock band and discovering the lead singer fronting a new group of musicians.

It takes a little getting used to, especially as Gunn employs cinematic sleight-of-hand off the top to make us think we’re getting one group of suicidal planet-savers while really giving us another.

Eventually these battered and smirking faces come into focus. Harley is joined by a motley crew that includes Idris Elba’s trigger-twitchy Bloodsport (the film’s best new character), John Cena’s bluntly instrumental Peacemaker, David Dastmalchian’s weirdly Oedipal Polka-Dot Man and Daniela Melchior’s Pied Piper-ish Ratcatcher 2. There’s also a ravenous walking shark named King Shark, a.k.a. Nanaue, voiced by Sylvester Stallone, who could be best buds with Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

They’re sent by their Suicide Squad commander (a returning and more snarly Viola Davis) on a dark ops mission to a Latin American island called Corto Maltese, which is in the midst of a coup, among other mayhem. This (fictional) jungle hellhole has been exploited by everybody from the Nazis to Banana Republic despots to a mad scientist named Thinker (Peter Capaldi), whose electrode-adorned head looks like a tribute to the coronavirus.

Gunn manages to work in some real-world references that make the U.S. government’s global interventions look more sinister than well-intended. This may explain, along with the relentless gore, why “The Suicide Squad” isn’t nearly as funny as “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The most dangerous menace on Corto Maltese is what I’ll coyly describe as the film’s biggest star attraction, who makes the final 20 minutes of “The Suicide Squad” the most over-the-top movie climax since the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man stalked the haunted streets of New York in “Ghostbusters.”

Prepare to be splattered, but also satisfied in a summer blockbuster kind of way.

TIFF’s big dog gala is scratched: Family comedy “Clifford the Big Red Dog” has been scratched from the Gala program lineup of next month’s Toronto International Film Festival. Studio Paramount has cancelled the film’s Sept. 17 theatrical release, reportedly due to fears of COVID-19 variant spread. No release date means no TIFF premiere. 🌗

(This review was originally published in the Toronto Star.)



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