If I could, I would write the same review for Birds of Prey that the fictional album Shark Sandwich received in This Is Spinal Tap: “S#!t sandwich.” But I guess I have to elaborate.
We can't start analyzing Birds of Prey — subtitled and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn — without turning to 2016's Suicide Squad, DC Comics' bid to match Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy with their own band of scrappy anti-heroes. That movie failed at all levels, but we’re forced to think about it again as Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), in her first flick as the lead character, starts off heartbroken after splitting with her beau, the villainous Joker (Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, not Oscar-winning Joaquin Phoenix).
The first few minutes of Birds of Prey find Quinn still in Gotham City, over-drinking, breaking the legs of a bar-goer and doing anything she can to get her mind off Joker. Then she gets an idea: In order to get over him, she has to get over the building where she jumped into a vat of acid to profess her love for the green-haired clown. She steals an 18-wheeler and drives it into the facility, causing a fireworks-like explosion. She's finally free, but — unfortunately for the audience — the journey is just beginning.
Shortly thereafter, we’re introduced to a detective, Renee Montoya (played by a still-stunning-at-55 Rosie Perez), who is investigating the murder of some mob guys at a restaurant. But this wasn't an ordinary hit: One was killed by an arrow to the throat.
Luckily for the detective, crime just happens around her, and the explosion caused by Quinn was right outside the restaurant. A canvassing cop finds a gold-plated “J” necklace, and it only means one thing to the detective: Harley Quinn just broke up with her boyfriend.
The plot doesn't get much more sophisticated. Indeed, there are times when the script proceeds like what one imagines a Tyler Perry movie would be in a comic book universe — let’s hope I didn’t just speak such a thing into existence.
We next see Quinn obsessing over the construction of a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich at a bodega while Barry White plays in the background. As soon as she hands over her last couple bucks for her breakfast, she walks outside and is chased by everyone in the city. Detective Montoya and a handful of other people come after her now that she doesn’t have Joker’s protection.
At some point in the movie’s string of flashbacks and Tarantino-wanna-be time shuffling, we are introduced to Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, proving himself much too talented for the material). Sionis runs a club where a singer he calls Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) has a recurring gig. After impressing her boss by kicking a bunch of guys’ asses who try to get fresh with an inebriated Quinn, Canary gets promoted to be his driver.
Black Canary hates the gig and lives in the same building with young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who snatches a diamond from one of Sionis' henchmen and swallows the $500,000 rock after being taken in a patrol car.
The movie turns into Quinn, Canary, Sionis and Montoya trying to find the girl. Some to protect, while Sionis just wants to gut it out of her — at one point, Quinn gives her a bunch of laxatives to get it out the old-fashioned way.
If this all seems silly and muddy, that's because it is. Between cheesy fight scenes and corny one-liners, one wonders how DC could take such a step back after Phoenix's impressive turn in Joker, which also sported an R rating.
I won’t spoil anything else, except for one particularly telling and flat-falling moment. After a turn of events leads all the female Birds of Prey to team up, they find themselves surrounded by an army of Gotham’s criminals sent to grab the diamond. Harley says to her gang, “This is like a sleepover. We should order a pizza and make cosmos.”
It wasn’t funny or clever or charming. If that’s what you’re after, Marvel has a few titles that might serve you better.