The first look at "Suicide Squad," the head-on collision between a clown car and a flaming hearse out in theaters now, came in July 2015 at Comic-Con. That first trailer cast a gloomy, dour color palette and outlook — the same sort of overwrought faux-operatic tone that shackled this spring's fellow DC franchise kickstarter, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." When that film's reviews approximated 800 words of eye-rolls, DC blinked, and desperate for a movie that human beings could actually connect with, went full Nickelodeon on the color correction and reshoots before "Suicide Squad" landed. Bye-bye asphalt-on-black title card. Hello, hypercolored fever-dreamy opening logos and credits sequence. As a bygone villain might've asked much earlier in the process: Why so serious?
The pivot didn't save DC from another blitz of cranky reviews, and rightly so. Director/writer David Ayer ("End of Watch," "Training Day") crammed so many villains-as-heroes into the first 30 minutes that there's scarcely time to decide whether we care about any of them. The next hour and a half goes partway to answering those questions, through one of the least interesting structures you've ever seen in a film. The story's a mess, the soundtrack is larded with cliches and, even after its facelift, the film gets bogged down in Dark Urban Gunfighting. All that, and yet it's also, improbably, a sugary rush that manages to endear itself as a hot mess by the end. You just can't stay mad at it.
Blame Will Smith and Margot Robbie. Smith plays Deadshot, the sharpshooting underworld assassin and doting father, and Robbie plays Harley Quinn, a bat-swinging, gun-toting psychopath the Joker turned out. We begin with them and other bad guys (we keep hearing this phrase, "bad guys" throughout — stay edgy, fam) chilling in an off-grid Louisiana prison, while a Machiavellian bureaucrat named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, smilelessly) starts politicking to get them out. She surmises that they're the only weapons strong enough to protect the world against Superman-level threats, now that (spoiler alert!) Supe is 6 feet under. Everyone acknowledges this could be the worst idea since Windows phones. And yet. After a vetting process slightly shorter than whatever John McCain put Sarah Palin through in '08, a whole roster of ex-cons hits the streets under the view of Army badass Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to stop his lady friend, Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), possessed by a 6,000-year-old Central American goddess, from destroying the world. You see how quickly this can spiral out of control.
Back to Smith and Robbie. Smith knows how to modulate between cocky sharpshooter and reluctant bandleader, even if you never really believe he's going to grease Flag. Robbie steals the show as the unhinged bad girl who got dropped into a vat of chemicals at Acme and then found enough patience to dye her hair with Kool-Aid. She and Jared Leto's Joker serve as a sort of Bonnie and Clyde for Juggalos. How is Leto, anyway, at a role Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for? Eh, he's fine. He doesn't get enough screen time to really make his mark on the part. How can Joker get so few scenes, you ask? This movie is just too full of people already.