‘Birds of Prey’ might have you praying for a better movie

“Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” – Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is a badass broad.  Don’t take this critic’s word for it.  She gave herself that moniker in “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey”, and why not.  She earned a PhD.  She plays roller derby.  She swings a baseball bat when trouble is afoot.  She loves greasy egg sandwiches with a hearty slice of cheese, and she’s Joker’s girlfriend.

Well, she was Joker’s girlfriend.  Sometime after Harley Quinn’s previous big screen performance in the dreadful “Suicide Squad” (2016) – where she and a cast of other criminal misfits saved the world – the Crown Prince of Crime broke up with her, and she’s terribly broken up about it.

Harley Quinn is reeling a bit.  Breakups can get messy, and our sympathies are with this young lady, who sports chalky-white skin, rainbow outfits that would make Elton John blush, swathes of tattoos, including “ROTTEN” scrawled across her right cheek, and a thick New York (err…Gotham City) accent with an attitude to match.

She’s looking for a fresh start, but just like many, many breakups, director Cathy Yan’s film is terribly messy from beginning to end.  This unfocused story shifts between HQ’s grieving process to a painfully slow formation of an all-female kick-butt team, as they…eventually…come together to protect a teenager named Cassandra (Ella Jay Bosco) who pickpocketed the henchman (Chris Messina) of nightclub owner-wannabe gangster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).

Harley Quinn steals our attention from the get-go, as her narration dominates the first act.  Yan and HQ help the audience play catch up, but this demented villainess also unnecessarily rewinds a couple of times, so the on-screen events repeatedly reset, which of course, triggers unpleasant memories of the infamous two character-introductions in “Suicide Squad”.   This film isn’t the unbridled mess of the 2016 film, but it’s not far off.

Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson spend too much time establishing HQ’s world and her current state of mind through exposition and colorful, chaotic vignettes.  Sure, it’s fun watching this uninhibited criminal mind shatter someone’s kneecaps, buy a hyena for a house pet and run into two-bit thugs, but about 30 minutes in, one might wonder if an actual plot will emerge.

Deep into the second act, the roles of police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finally become clear, but not before Yan and Hodson dabble with flashbacks as late as 75 minutes into the film.

These construction problems hamper any sense of a cohesive narrative, but this tale of the Birds of Prey Team protecting the aforementioned teen (Basco) isn’t exactly worthy of a Harley Quinn feature film.  The same goes for Sionis (Ewan McGregor).  He isn’t given much to do except for posturing, hollering and stomping around his nightclub.  He does, however, have his sidekick Victor (Messina) cut off his enemies’ faces in his spare time, but ironically these men seem as menacing as a stray loose-leaf sheet of paper poised to deliver a paper cut.

Well, sitting through this noisy picture – with lackluster special effects (which is a notorious, rightful criticism of many D.C. films), including a cartoonish chemical plant explosion – might be a hazard to anyone hoping for a structured superhero film.  Sure, Robbie taps into her inner psycho and delivers several stand-up-and-cheer moments for Harley Quinn fans everywhere.  That’s perfect for a 20-minute montage on YouTube, but the sum of the pieces around her aren’t greater than the whole.  This badass broad is simply stuck in a bad movie.

⭐1/2  out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image and Trailer credits:  Warner Bros. Pictures

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