You know Hollywood is having a bad blockbuster season when the summer's best prospect is a dark, cynical number like Suicide Squad.
The $175 million picture is far superior to the long list of disappointments we've seen so far, including the tepid Ghostbusters remake, the dreadful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel, and the stunning critical and commercial duds Independence Day: Resurgence and Jason Bourne.
But considering the competition, that's hardly a compliment.
Suicide Squad is about a team of ne'er-do-well metahuman criminals who are imprisoned by the feds and then forced to help the government defeat a new batch of seriously scary supervillains.
The characters will be unfamiliar to all but DC Comics fans. Will Smith is both cuddly and deadly as the assassin Deadshot. Jay Hernandez is all tatted up as Diablo, the human flamethrower. Common plays a henchman named Monster T.
Viola Davis is wonderfully terrifying as the Defense Department guru who assembles the team - and keeps them in line by summarily executing anyone who disobeys her orders.
But the movie belongs to Jared Leto and Margot Robbie, who give lunatic performances as the Joker and his main squeeze, psychiatrist-turned-madwoman Harley Quinn. (Leto has said he was inspired to make the role his own after watching Heath Ledger's extraordinary turn as the funny villain in 2008's The Dark Knight.)
They laugh and kill and butcher and cackle with naughty irreverence, unaffected by the absurd gravitas that weighs down their comrades.
Gravitas? Suicide Squad is set after the death of Superman in the ridiculous Batman v Superman, and it's dipped in DC Comics' wretchedly dark, quasi-Dostoevskian world.
In fact, Suicide Squad is a seriously schizoid feature. It is, on the whole, a brainless, over-the-top, guns-blazin' actioner. Yet the action is interrupted several times by these earnest timeouts while the characters explore their inner selves like members of a group-therapy session.
Perhaps we're seeing a clash of styles between the film's two dominant creative forces. Writer-director David Ayer specializes in hard-core, brutally honest dramas like End of Watch and Fury. Exec producer Zack Snyder is a master of the super-glossy, stylized CGI-soaked fantasy: 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch.
The mix doesn't work.
Suicide Squad does have quite a few tremendously entertaining sequences of high action and low comedy. It's a shame it never rises beyond that.