It says a great deal about Birds of Prey that despite its many explosions, slow-motion fights, gun blasts and copious shouting, I nearly nodded off. There are many movies that have no reason to exist and this latest misfire from DC Comics is one of them. Directed by Cathy Yan, who had one feature film to her name before this, the movie is a narrative and visual mess that sports a sense of self-awareness that gets old real quick. Penned by Christina Hodson - Bumblebee being the highlight on her resume - the script is as simplistic as it is thin, as needless subplots are introduced to inflate the film to a decent running time, the story stuck in a mire of uninspired ideas and recycled genre conventions.
The best thing about David Ayer's misguided Suicide Squad was Margot Robbie's performance as the Mistress of Mayhem, Harley Quinn. With nary a knowing wink to the audience, the actress played the role to the hilt, bringing a sexy, confident swagger to the part with a touch of gleeful mischief to boot. She was the perfect personification of the character as rendered in the comic books and Robbie's efforts surely justified a sequel. Warner Brothers' desire to capitalize on her crowd-pleasing turn made that a reality.
Too bad Prey is as predictable and by-the-numbers as Harley is erratic and off-the-wall. Cruelly, Yan and Hodson give us a ray of hope as the film gets off to a rousing start with our heroine – Robbie again having the time of her life – dealing with a broken heart as the Joker has unceremoniously dumped her. Getting blackout drunk, vicious rounds of roller derby and even adopting a hyena fail to stop the pain, and wouldn't you know it, things get worse. A price is put on her head by the nefarious Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) who wants her dead because of a myriad of past transgressions. While Harley is on the run she crosses paths with a pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) who has a very valuable gem in her possession. Seems everybody wants this for various reasons, including Gotham police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), powerful chanteuse Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and the ruthless vigilante Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
What's most remarkable about the film is that it has so much going on, yet it never proves engaging. Part of the blame is with Hodson's script, which employs extended flashbacks and narrative tangents, so much so that the story takes forever to really start moving forward. While Robbie is very good here, giving an all-in performance the movie doesn't deserve, it's as if she's running in place, attempting through sheer force of will to energize a story mired in cliché.
Yan and Hodson's approach to the material proves counterintuitive. While they give fans plenty of scenes of hand-to-hand combat, vehicular mayhem and gun battles, they end up stalling the film rather than energizing it. Hey, I'm all for seeing Harley and her crew putting the men who oppress them in their place, but I don't need to see it again and again and again to get the point. What is initially thrilling soon becomes repetitive and dull.
Much like Suicide Squad, Prey has a roster of characters that are intriguing and a talented cast that brings them to life with a degree of style that makes them more interesting than they have a right to be. Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing them in another movie, one with a well-written script, a sense of visual clarity and perhaps some inventive action scenes. You know, the stuff that makes for a daring film rather than one made by the book.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.