We may be only a little more than halfway through 2016, but I’m prepared to call it: “Suicide Squad” is the worst movie of the year.
Unpleasant, incoherent, astonishingly poorly made, the DC Comics spin-off, about a ragtag team of criminal meta-humans (“the worst of the worst,” Viola Davis’s character solemnly intones at one point) conscripted to save the world from World War III, provides yet one more nail in the franchise’s cinematic coffin, joining last spring’s “Batman v. Superman” in what has become a dreary roll call of cinematic Debbie Downers, tarted up by moody visuals and a dour tone to seem far edgier than they are.
Nowhere is “Suicide Squad” more tiresome than in the Joker, DC fans’ favorite villain who in previous incarnations was portrayed by some of the greatest actors of the 20th century, from Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger. Here, the duties fall to the Oscar-winning Jared Leto, who dons silver tooth caps, grubby tattoos and the character’s signature painted-on grin to deliver a manic, derivative performance that takes a pinch from Nicholson and Ledger, and unseemly dollops from Jim Carrey at his most mannered and wearyingly self-referential.
Leto’s on-screen histrionics aren’t helped by his off-screen behavior, chronicled in stories during the film’s production that recounted him sending items such as bullets and a live rat to his co-stars – attempts at getting into his amoral character that went more than a step too far. If the results in “Suicide Squad” are any indication, there wasn’t any method to Leto’s madness, just badness in his Method.
Thankfully, the Joker goes missing for great swaths of “Suicide Squad,” which picks up and loses characters with haphazard absent-mindedness. But the actor’s penchant for harassing his workplace colleagues reflects the same passive-aggressive insecurity the entire enterprise is steeped in. Nasty and nihilistic, “Suicide Squad” is a study in over-compensation at its most pathetic — arriving as if conjured by the same unmediated shadow material that has been given free rein in a season when the song of summer has been replaced by rage, resentment and deranged political rhetoric that seems to find new lows with every passing news cycle.
Giddy with gratuitous, fetishistic gunplay, kinky sexual innuendo between the Joker and his girlfriend, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), larded with mean-spirited profanity, “Suicide Squad” was deemed fit for a PG-13 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America’s board — a fact that might give thinking people pause, until they remember that the film will open just days after a pre-teen kid yelled “Take that bitch down!” at a Donald Trump rally in Virginia. (“Children are children,” his mother reportedly shrugged.)
It bears noting that the rally in question took place the same day the candidate himself seemed to be picking fights with everyone within spitting distance, from the parents of a fallen military hero to a crying baby to the leadership of his own party — a real-life Suicide Squad even more bizarre than the fictional version on offer.
There’s something undeniably entertaining, even cathartic, about watching “the worst of the worst” onscreen, as seen in villains from Hannibal Lecter to Anton Chigurh. But, right now at least, “Suicide Squad’s” governing ethic of surly, smash-and-grab hostility and id run amok seems less like innocent escapism than the ugly, strutting vision of an America that’s getting a little too close for comfort.