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Robbie, 'Birds of Prey' soar with chaotic glee

Phil on Film
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Posted at 9:45 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-07 10:06:42-05

Haphazard and erratic, Warner Bros. takes the opposite approach with DC superhero films to Disney's fine-tuned calibration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The result is that DC movies can be embarrassing travesties such as "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," or transcendent, Oscar-nominated successes like "Joker."

"Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" is the movie that best encapsulates Warner Bros.' scattered approach. The wacky, nearly too-cute action-comedy is crammed with scattershot efforts meant to entertain at all costs. Its story makes no sense, the narrative flow is disconnected and there's little plot and even less payoff.

But damned if the movie isn't consistently entertaining.

It's almost as though Harley Quinn herself directed the movie. Played by Margot Robbie with effervescent charm, convincing acrobatics and a loopy charm that radiates chaotic mayhem, Quinn acts as the movie's mixed-up, unreliable narrator.

Hurting after a breakup with Joker, Harley is out to establish herself as more than just arch-villain arm candy. She finds herself ensnared in a diamond heist involving B-list Batman bad guy Black Mask (Ewan McGregor)

Just about any excuse to unleash Robbie on the character that elevated her to superstardom is worth pursuing, And that's just about all this movie is. Despite the team-oriented title, Quinn isn't one to fall in line with any sort of squad. She's a solo act who makes everyone around her into background dancers.

It's just as well that the other characters are dim under Robbie's starlight, because they are made up of the players at the end of DC's bench. Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) are nobody's idea of Catwoman or Poison Ivy, and basically exist just to react to and enhance Quinn's antics.

Credit director Cathy Yan for playing to the concept's strengths and leaning hard into the sense of exuberant momentum. Instead of focusing on keeping the lackluster story tidy, Yan emphasizes breakneck action, rollicking humor and clever narrative tricks to keep things amusing. One of the more satisfying running gimmicks are subtitles that identify enemies and list the reasons they want to take Quinn down. The Snapchat story-style delivery strikes just the right tone for the film.

"Birds of Prey" enthuses just the sort of energy moviegoers were hoping for from -- but found lacking -- in "Charlie's Angels." Armed with a figurative mallet and megawatt smile, Robbie and her movie prove that sometimes when it comes to filmmaking, chaos is a better approach than order. In this case, the odd bird gets the worm.

RATING: 3 stars out of 4.

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