Welcome to Coffee At The Movies, in which Sprudge pop culture writer Eric J. Grimm sneaks tasty coffee into New York City’s movie theaters to experience Hollywood’s most (and sometimes least) dazzling films. This time out it’s “Suicide Squad”, opening this weekend worldwide.
My own suicide mission was clear. Sneaking coffee into the Regal Cinemas Union Square 14 was going to be more difficult than any of my previous operations. The woman who tears the tickets is no nonsense. She will scrutinize them to make sure you didn’t pay the senior citizen price and she will boot your ass if you try to carry in any liquid visible in your bag. In the eight years I have been patronizing the theater, I have come to deeply respect her commitment to following the rules. With my willingness to open my bag before she asks, however, I have managed to fool her, wrapping booze in scarves and well-worn paperback books to make watching all of those Nicholas Sparks weepies that much more hilarious.
I had it down to a science, but this time, I was in a bind. It was thirty minutes before the start of a 6:00pm showing of Suicide Squad, and I forgotten to bring a bag to conceal my coffee.
My coworker and dear friend, Leslie Plummer, came to the rescue and agreed to meet me at Third Rail Coffee on Stuyvesant—but she carried with her only the tiniest of tiny purses. It was clear that we would have to be resourceful in getting a very small coffee past the ticket taker, a woman for whom all outside beverages were the enemy. Luckily, the baristas at Third Rail supported my villainy: Annie Battles pulled a shot of Counter Culture’s Big Trouble into a 4oz paper cup; Luke Thurmond then capped it and wrapped it tightly in a pastry bag, which Leslie gingerly wedged into the bottom of her shallow bag.
Yes. Espresso to go. This was dirty business.
Leslie and I confidently strode to the theater and climbed two sets of escalators, preparing to meet our adversary with an eye toward victory. After all of that quick thinking and collaboration between conspirators, New York’s most feared ticket taker wasn’t even on duty. It was the first of many disappointments that evening. As I slowly sipped that shot, which was as good as the straightforward, caramelly Big Trouble gets, I tried my damndest and quickly failed to enjoy Suicide Squad, another miscalculated and thrill-less entry in the DC Extended Universe. This movie sports a nigh-bottomless collection of villains assembled to battle even more villains—that’s a pretty good set-up for an August smash-’em-up popcorn flick. This movie should have been a nasty and unpredictable thrill ride, but it was neither nasty nor unpredictable. Far from being remorseless psychopaths, the boring squad is a band of misunderstood softies who quickly realize that the only way to save the world is through the power of friendship. How dreadful. It is often nauseatingly sentimental in a way that no movie about maximum security prisoners cut loose should be.
The men of the squad and its surrounding characters can’t come close to selling the concept. Will Smith, as de facto leader Deadshot, an assassin with perfect aim, is too devoid of intensity to be mistaken for a villain. Jared Leto’s Joker, not so much the archvillain of the piece as an occasional distraction, has all of the tics of Heath Ledger’s take and none of the menace. The women are more game to embrace their inner psychos, and while her Brooklyn accent is all over the place, Margot Robbie is a gleefully unhinged Harley Quinn. As the Joker’s sexual pawn, she’s not even close to being a feminist antihero, but there’s something magical about seeing her maniacal grin as the group comes face to face with seemingly insurmountable evil. Viola Davis is even better as Amanda Waller, the ruthlessly ambitious government official who assembles the squad. Davis rips into the role, eating steak and guzzling wine with supreme authority as she convinces the armed forces and the audience that her terrible squad concept will make the world safer. Watching actors like Robbie and Davis recite garbage dialogue gets the heart racing far more than the film’s snoozy effects-heavy action sequences. If only the whole film were as slyly mean as Davis’s stealthy villain, or as captivatingly day-glo as Robbie’s gun moll, whose complexity and inner narrative the film hardly bothers expressing. Give both these anti-heroes their own movies, I say, should DC be able to convince either star to suit up again.
As it stands, Suicide Squad is a tame action picture with thrills more short-lived than an espresso in a paper cup. My coffee was pretty good; this movie is pretty bad.
Cupping Score: 70
Notes: All sickly sweet aromatics disguised as sour