BIRDS OF PREY (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

(director/writer: Cathy Yan; screenwriter: Christina Hodson; cinematographer: Matthew Libatique; editors: Jay Cassidy, Evan Schiff; music: Daniel Pemberton; cast: Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Helena Bertinelli / The Huntress), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Dinah Lance / Black Canary), Rosie Perez (Renee Montoya), Chris Messina (Victor Zsasz), Ella Jay Basco (Cassandra Cain), Ali Wong (Ellen Yee), Ewan McGregor (Roman Sionis, The Black Mask); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sue Kroll, Margot Robbie, Bryan Unkeless; Warner Bros. Pictures; 2020)

“The Australian actress Margot Robbie is terribly good as the freaky heroine Harley Quinn.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Cathy Yan (“Dead Pigs”), in her first big budget film, does wonders directing this spinoff of the disappointing 2016 ‘Suicide Squad’ and at least making it palatable (but by no means fantabulous) even if flawed and in bad taste. This version is looser and more fun than the other version. After an incoherent opening, where the voice-over of the main character explaining her plight is less useful than confusing, the film settles down and begins to make some sense. The Australian actress Margot Robbie is terribly good as the freaky heroine Harley Quinn, whose manic energy takes over the narrative. It has her doing such crazy antics as backflips on roller skates. Meanwhile writer Christina Hodson keeps it diverting, strange and filled with raucous quips from the colorful characters sporting exotic costumes.

Harley, a trained psychiatrist with daddy issues, becomes a bad girl and is dumped by her longtime boyfriend the Joker (played by Jared Leto in the other film), Gotham’s fiercest villain. Without his protection, her foppish psycho enemy, the wealthy protection racket mobster known as the Black Mask, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and his sadistic right-hand man Chris Messina (Victor Zsasz) come after her.

Harley through some complications gets involved trying to save a young pickpocket orphan girl named Cass (Ella Jay Basco), who in later episodes will become known as Batgirl. While the hidden Cass is targeted by the bad guys for stealing a diamond from them and then swallowing the precious jewel, Harley joins forces with Cass’s protectors–the disillusioned cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), the idealistic Danah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a martial arts expert and singer at the crime lord Roman’s nightclub, and the mob heiress turned crossbow expert, the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

At the climax, the so-called Birds of Prey women are determined to take down Roman’s goons and will fight them.

The action flick is filled with excessive lethal action but is still one of the more crudely funny (but not witty) comic book films, moving at a fast-pace and allowing its superheroes to be free of moral restraints or the usual motives for doing good. This gives it a different feel than the usual superhero films and might appeal because of that to those not fans of the genre.

The DC Comics allowed the filmmakers to take more risks than other studio comic book films, and the more daring ones had some limited success with such watchable films as “Wonder Woman,” “Shazam!” and now “Birds of Prey.”

REVIEWED ON 2/10/2020  GRADE: B-