Lawrence Toppman

‘Suicide Squad:’ Bad guys, good action, bad writing

“The Dirty Dozen,” one of my favorite war movies, will no doubt get a 50th-anniversary boxed set next year. Those of us who wait for it can mark time with “Suicide Squad,” which borrows the same concept and executes it with more lunacy and far less flair.

In both films, a group of homicidal prisoners under sentence of death or life imprisonment have an option: Serve their sentences or go on a secret mission for the U.S. government with hopes of a reprieve. Some characters are misunderstood, some insane, some stone-cold killers, some mourning havoc they caused, some redeemed by a small streak of goodness.

The difference is in the emotional payoff. When people in “The Dirty Dozen” died – including a few we had come to like, even admire – we felt something. When the puppets in the comic-book adaptation of “Suicide Squad” presumably meet terrible fates, nothing’s at stake. Resurrections happen as casually as you and I find loose change among sofa cushions.

That’s because writer-director David Ayer and/or his bosses at DC Comics insisted on following the antihero template: Baddies band together to defeat someone even worse, a monster who threatens All Of Humanity As We Know It. They give most of the participants a slender back story (and some get none at all) in this action-heavy outing.

Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a millennia-old spirit, was trapped in a cave until she occupied the body of archaeologist June Moone. (Really, that’s her name.) Enchantress can move through space faster than light speed and was meant to be part of the Suicide Squad; instead, she decides to make all mortals bow down before her.

That squad belongs to government honcho Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who has successfully revived the “Batman v. Superman” argument: If someone with superpowers becomes a supervillain, we need a crack team of assassins at the ready.

So when the witch cuts loose, Waller sends in that team: hit man Deadshot (Will Smith), insane gymnast/psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Aussie wild man Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a misshapen human named Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the only one in the bunch who has a superpower – he projects fire – or shows remorse for his crimes, which he committed in fits of temporary madness.

They’re led by special ops guy Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Rick Flag loves June Moone, whom he wants to liberate from Enchantress. The joker in this deck is indeed The Joker, Harley’s “puddin.’ ” Jared Leto plays him with snakelike sleaziness – he’s a psychotic version of the emcee in “Cabaret” – but Harley, who’s also in whiteface and clown makeup, seems like his shadow when he’s around.

Ayer has often been a careless writer, and so he is here. For instance, Waller restrains Enchantress by keeping the witch’s heart in a box. She assigns Flag to guard Moone, who can’t be overcome by the succubus while under Waller’s control.

But whenever Waller or Flag isn’t paying attention – say, while they sleep – Enchantress can slip off and do anything she likes. That includes gate-crashing a men’s bathroom to blow Evil Dust into a guy’s mouth, thereby creating a 20-foot metallic slave who shoots electricity from his arms.

To that, one can only say 1) Well, duh; and 2) That’s just the kind of behavior HB2 was designed to protect us against.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Suicide Squad

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Jared Leto, Cara Delevingne.

Writer-director: David Ayer.

Length: 123 minutes.

Rating: PG-13 (sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language).