MOVIE BUFF-ET: Robbie’s Harley Quinn returns in surprisingly strong “Birds of Prey”

Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, and Ella Jay Basco in Birds of Prey / Warner Bros.

It’s always a great feeling leaving the theater when a movie turns out to be better than what you anticipated, and that was the exact feeling I had after watching “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.”

This was not a film I was looking forward to seeing, but hats off to director Cathy Yan, screenwriter Christina Hodson, and the cast for crafting a solid, high-stakes action-comedy that just happened to feature costumed vigilantes and criminals.

While the movie borrows the title from a DC Comics series that stars an all-female super-hero squad, anti-hero Harley Quinn is the central focus of the movie, and Margot Robbie is unquestionably the star. With her comedic Brooklyn accent on point, Robbie gives a winning and very physical performance as the loon whom the Joker dumped.

The situation not only leaves Harley depressed but in a desperate situation without without her former “Puddin’s” protection. Now that’s she no longer the Joker’s main squeeze, she fair game for retribution from the entirety of the underworld scene.

While going on a bender in a nightclub owned by Gotham City crime boss Roman “Black Mask” Sionis (Ewan McGregor), she runs afoul of the sniveling, narcissistic but influential sociopath.

To get Sionis off her back, Harley promises to find and return a large diamond encrypted with secret information that was pickpocketed from one of Sionis’ sadistic lieutenants Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), a sadistic psychopathic serial killer who keeps score of his body count by carving scars into his torso.

While attempting to find and return the diamond, Quinn’s path crosses with of Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Dinah Laurel Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

After much mayhem, the quintet of femme fatales opts to team-up to save each other from an army of mercenaries hired by Sionis to find the diamond.

The film features a large amount of knee-breaking, testicle-busting action throughout, but the climax at a ramshackle amusement park is spectacular, putting the skills and talents of the Bird of Prey on full display. “John Wick” Director and stunt choreographer Chad Stahelski served as second unit director and shot a majority of the fight action that made it into the film.

His work and Chan’s service each other flawlessly in this highly entertaining action movie that benefits from strong performances throughout.

Robbie capably carries the film as McGregor chews scenery like a madman that his character is. Smollet-Bell comes off the best of the other members of the Birds of Play with Perez somewhat wasted in the stereotypically written role of Montoya.

Winstead’s Huntress has the most interesting backstory of any of the characters in the movie, but the character’s personality is written a bit stiff.

Basco’s Cassandra Cain resembles the comic book character in name only, but the 13-year-old actress excels in her considerable role among a very talented cast.

The movie earns it’s R-rating with brutal violence and an enormous amount profanity.

“Birds of Prey” is surprising good, and should only add to the string of hits Warner Bros. has had with its DC Comics films since the epic underperformance of its “Justice League” movie.

With “Joker” nominated for 11 Oscars at this Sunday’s Academy Awards, and “Birds of Prey” the only new film in wide release this weekend, it stands to be a fine weekend for DC Comics on film.

(R) 1 hr. 49 min.
Grade: B

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn(R) 1 hr. 49 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Malco Rogers Towne, Skylight

Classic Corner – Kirk Douglas

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea / Disney

Like most classic film fans, I was saddened to hear of the death of Kirk Douglas, 103, last Wednesday. He was indeed one of the greatest stars in the history of motion pictures.

“Variety” reports that producers of Sunday night’s Academy Awards are rushing to include Douglas in its “In Memoriam” tribute that honors prominent members of the film industry who passed away since last year’s award show.

Douglas’ rugged good looks and tough-guy persona made him a star almost from the moment he made his film debut in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” with Barbara Ivers” in 1946. He never won an Oscar for acting, but he was nominated three times for Best Actor and earned an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement and a similar award from the American Film Institute.

The World War II veteran’s greatest honor came in the form of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter before he left office in 1981. Douglas received numerous other awards for his acting, writing, and painting.

Douglas was a key figure in breaking the Hollywood blacklist of talent who were unfairly driven from the business after being accused of communist connections when he gave screenwriter Dalton Trumbo official on-screen credit for his work on the 1960 film “Spartacus.”
Douglas, whose son Michael became one of the industry’s biggest stars from the 1980s and 1990s, was also widely known for his philanthropic efforts.

Despite his passing, we’ll thankfully always have his movies. Douglas appeared in more than 90 of them with his most fertile and creative period being the 1950s with films like “Ace in the Hole” (1951), “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954), “Lust for Life” (1956), “Paths of Glory” (1957), “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (1957), and “The Vikings” (1958). However, 1960’s “Spartacus” might be his most notable film.

The American Film Institute named him the 17th greatest male star in the history of American films. Looking back at his accomplishments, that might be too low.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

My first memory of Douglas was from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Disney’s grand adaption of Jules Verne’s seminal sci-fi adventure. I saw it first at a children’s matinee when I was around 4 or 5 years old in the early 1970s, and I’ve loved it ever since. Even though I have the movie on DVD, it was the first thing I watched on the Disney + streaming platform last November. It looked great. The film is an all-ages treat that holds up surprisingly well to modern fare. James Mason and Peter Lorre co-star.

The Bold and the Beautiful

As much as I love “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” over the years my favorite Douglas film has become “The Bad and the Beautiful.” It’s a story about an unscrupulous film producer who betrays three friends/co-workers, but despite the mistreatment, they move to the top of their industry because of it. The melodrama, directed by Vincente Minnelli, might remind you a bit of “Citizen Kane” with its flashback structure, but it’s much more fun.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Douglas appears as the gunslinging card sharp Doc Holiday opposite Burt Lancaster’s Wyatt Earp in this 1957 version of the famed shootout. It’s one of seven films the two co-starred with each other, and it’s a rousing Western that’s better than most of the Oaters of its day. The truth and the fiction surrounding the gunfight is so compelling that it’s difficult to make a bad version of the story. Douglas and Lancaster star in one of the better ones. Kurt Russell so admired the movie that he basically remade a flashier version of the movie with 1993’s “Tombstone.”

Douglas starred in so many great movies that I wouldn’t try to argue that these three are the best, but sentimentally, they are the three I think of the most fondly when I think of Douglas. Even if “Spartacus,” “Paths of Glory,” and “Lust for Life” are considered better by most critics, this trio is certainly worth checking out if you’ve never seen them.