A side-plot character steals the show in Suicide Squad and child detectives save Erased from being a disaster
Two comic-book series turned into cinematic properties show that you can mess up a movie in two ways - by ignoring the tone of the source material, and also by sticking to it.
If you come into Suicide Squad (PG13, 123 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5./5 stars) thinking that because it has anti-heroes, it will be edgy and adult-oriented, you will be wrong.
The DC Comics movie train has been chugging along on the power of two characters - a paltry number when rival Marvel has spawned more than a dozen and the number is growing.
This movie is DC's latest attempt at expanding the franchise to more than just Batman and Superman. It is not doing so by half-measures - not only is it introducing an ensemble of new-to-the-movies characters, but these new ones are also morally shady.
Which would be an original idea, except Marvel earlier this year released Deadpool, a baddie whose speciality is disposing of even worse people. It was properly violent, rated M18 and featured a masked man who was thrilled with killing.
What Deadpool has unleashed, the Squad is trying to undo. Squad's anti-heroes are only a few shades more morally deviant than high-school kid Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). Killing as spectator sport is also out of the question, given its PG13 rating.
An all-too-brief segment introduces Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and others, explaining why they are criminals. It turns out they are not really bad people at all - surprise, surprise - just misguided or too much in love or some other movie-style rationalisation.
And except for human flame-thrower Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and the spell-casting Enchantress, the rest of the team lack real superpowers.
They are highly skilled - at sniping (Deadshot), gymnastics (Harley Quinn) or throwing a curved piece of metal (Boomerang, played by Jai Courtney).
The government goes through an awful lot of trouble forcing them to take on a difficult mission. Why? Couldn't they find someone more qualified than a guy good at flinging objects of a certain geometric shape? Even by comic-book rules, in this context, their recruitment makes little sense.
Boomerang, by the way, is Australian, and the sword-swinging Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a woman who wears a rising sun flag on her face, is Japanese.
Broad national stereotypes are standard in the comics, but these two are a bit much and bring to mind the mime-like French villain Bomb Voyage from The Incredibles (2004).
Jared Leto's much-discussed Joker is the most interesting character, by blending the posturing of Marilyn Manson with the swagger of a gangster rapper. When a character from a side-plot like the Joker steals the spotlight from the main players, your movie's in trouble.
Squad's writer-director David Ayer has made excellent studies of manly men under pressure - cops in End Of Watch (2012) and tankmen in Fury (2014).
Here, he plays down the source material's playfulness in favour of stuff that makes him comfortable, so the focus is on the male hero Deadshot (Smith) and the military mission, when Ayer should be paying attention to moments of deepest kitsch.
When Delevingne's Enchantress is at her most evil, for example, she does a snake-hips-wavey-arms hula dance out of a 1950s Bob Hope comedy. Ayers shoots this scene with a deadly earnestness. What on earth made him think this could work?
Erased(PG, 120 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars) is a live-action fantasy thriller based on a property that was first a manga, then an anime made for television.
Satoru (played by Tatsuya Fujiwara as an adult and Tsubasa Nakagawa as a fifth-grader) is a pizza delivery driver and aspiring manga creator who is involuntarily sent back in time whenever someone near him is about to die, giving him the chance to save that person. This is Groundhog Day (1993) meets The Time Traveler's Wife (2009).
When his mother is murdered, Satoru is sent back further than he has been before, to 1988. Now a fifth-grader, he must solve a series of child kidnap-murders in his hometown if he is to prevent his mother's future death at the hands of the same serial killer.
Director Yuichiro Hirakawa manages to keeps things pacy, despite a screenplay that stops to shout its follow-your-dreams messages every few minutes and a lead character who is blind to his emotions (even with him narrating scenes).
The movie condenses hours of television time into a rushed 120 minutes, leaving secondary characters as mere sketches, with a finale that feels pat and undercooked.
Everything hangs together largely through the chemistry of the child actors in the 1988 scenes. Without their charming turns as kid detectives, this manga adaptation could have been a disaster.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'Suicide attempt fails'. Print Edition | Subscribe
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.