Review: 'Birds of Prey'

Harley Quinn and her crew best 'Suicide Squad,' but the sequel still feels incoherent
SQUAD GOALS: In 'Birds of Prey,' girls just wanna have mayhem.

Fear not being too old or too male for Birds of Prey. Call it upcycled, repurposed or just plain ripped-off, but it's made out of familiar and gaudy stuff.

A climactic battle in an abandoned fun house with slides, spinning platforms and pop-art murals looks like the most expensive episode ever of the 1960s Batman TV-show ever. The soundtrack includes tunes that could be in a dad's record collection. Spike Lee star Rosie Perez is Lt. Montoya, whose tough-cop dialogue catalyzes the Miami Vice references just as thoroughly as the villain's pink sports coat and French-cut T-shirt. There's plenty of 1990s backassward Tarantino storytelling: "Oh, I forgot to mention this important part of the story, let's watch everything we just saw rewinded backwards at high speed."

In this superior followup to Suicide Squad—subtitled And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn—we learn that Harley's breakup with Joker removes the protection she once had to act anyway she pleased. Harley becomes involved with the citywide hunt for a diamond that's currently lodged inside the digestive system of Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), the adolescent pickpocket who swiped it and swallowed it. Crime boss Roman "Black Mask" Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and his knife-wielding henchman and boyfriend Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) are also on the hunt for the rock.

The digitized, weightless asskicking continues while the movie attempts to congeal. The appeal of Batstuff is nocturnal mystery, and that's not what Robbie does with her character. Birds of Prey has a lot of broad daylight in it. Filming in L.A., director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) envisions Harley's neighborhood as one big Chinatown, with loads of aloha shirts and street grub. Robbie's Harley is a version of her Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, if the skater had been at ground zero at a Party City warehouse explosion. Her bratty mayhem eclipses the actual vigilantes: Dinah (Jurnee Smolett-Bell) never really called Black Canary, who turns out to have a superpower of her own beyond being able to kick ass in skin-tight gold pants. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the crossbow-wielding Huntress, given too little to do.

A roller skate-car chase at the end gives the movie a charge, but the story seems low-stakes. Would the Joker be that het up about a hot diamond? He had bigger plans. And there's no sign of that dread city, which leaves its dark brand upon all its inhabitants. Up until a finale—on a decaying pier, in a thick fog, lined with tortured statues like Prague's Charles bridge—Gotham City doesn't seem so gothic.

Birds of Prey
R; 109 Mins.

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