Group dynamics and the transmogrified cat 

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Ask anyone who's ever travelled with two other married couples — group dynamics can be a real bitch. And that goes double for making movies, and double-double if everyone in the group is a psychotic criminal like they are in Suicide Squad, opening Friday in regular or 3D at the Whistler Village 8.

The latest flick in the trying-to-get-cohesive DC Comics cinematic universe, Suicide Squad has a great premise: looking to fight fire with fire in a post-Superman/meta-human world, a hard-nosed (and loose-moraled) government agent takes all the worst super villains ever captured, coerces them into a team, and sets them loose to save the world — or destroy it.

(Spoilers ahead!) Deadshot (Will Smith) is the world's greatest sniper. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is the abused ex-girlfriend of the Joker, and she's twice as crazy as he is. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is an ex-gang banger with hot hands. There's a dude called Captain Boomerang who, uh, chucks a boomerang. And a ninja chick with a sword that steals souls, and a mutant lizard called Killer Croc, and, uh, a guy called Slipknot who dies before you really know who he is. Plus Batman shows up and, for no real reason, so does the Flash.

Originally meant to be a grungier, madcap companion to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, David Ayer's Suicide Squad got a huge pile of expectations handed over after the former flick underperformed at the box-office earlier this year. In the final months leading to its release (and with the success of Marvel's dark comedy Deadpool) Suicide Squad reportedly suffered from studio meddling, reshoots, and general haphazardness.

And it shows. A sense of non-cohesion and narrative ramshackleness plagues the picture throughout. Characters pop up and disappear for no reason, storylines are created and lost without consequence. And when you assemble bad guys to fight even worse guys, the even worse guys need to actually be even worse. Suicide Squad has two of the weakest antagonists in comic movie history.

And yet, amid all the false starts and unnecessary people/places/events, director Ayer (Fury, End of Watch) does manage to occasionally hit that mix of grit and comedy everyone was hoping for. Despite the jigsaw puzzle plot or hodgepodge character development, Suicide Squad's salvation comes from the star-calibre talents of Smith, Robbie, and especially Viola Davis (the jury is still out on Jared Leto's Joker, you can decide for yourself). There are moments of pure chaotic glee in there and the core characters keep things afloat.

But as a total package, it's PG disappointing. Group dynamics are extra hard in the movies, you only have so much time to make everyone feel like they belong, or we the audience will notice that they don't.

Also opening this week, Nine Lives is about a shitty, career-first father (Kevin Spacey) whose attempt to buy his daughter a cat off a mysterious Gremlins-style shopkeeper (Christopher Walken) backfires as he ends up transmogrified into a cat, a cat with a human brain!

Now a birthday gift for his own neglected daughter, the cat has seven days to figure its shit out and get its priorities in order or else it will stay a cat forever! The cat/dad subsequently spends half its screen time trying to convince its wife (Jennifer Garner) that it is not a cat. No pre-screeners and I'm not even sure what audience this bestial Freaky Friday is aimed at, but you can count on the cat pulling it off in the end.

The download of the week is a long two-parter. First, go watch Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru on Netflix. It's essentially an infomercial but also strangely hard to not watch — like when you see a dog taking a dump. Once that's done, go find Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia for a look at Tom Cruise doing a very Robbins-esque shtick way back in 1999. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is also in this one, and it rains frogs.

Magnolia is an ensemble picture, it's also a hot mess, hard to follow and long as stink (188 minutes) but it's notable for weaving a huge number of characters into the story and they all feel like they are really there. Paul Thomas Anderson is a master of group dynamics, just watch Boogie Nights for proof.

Of course, it's always easier when the whole group are porn stars.


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