The Little Things: A Little (Lot) Too Cliche – HBO Max Review

Three great actors and a decent premise, but you’ve seen it before.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

It’s 1990 and a woman has been murdered in L.A.  Disgraced former detective and current deputy sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) is called in to collect forensic evidence and notices similarities to a serial murder case he worked on. Along with lead detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), Deacon searches for a man who is out murdering prostitutes in California. The two begin to investigate local man Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), who shows an interest in Baxter and in serial murder.

They’re an odd couple of detectives.

END SUMMARY

This movie’s getting beaten up a bit by critics and, honestly, it’s easy to see why. I’ve tried not to read them too much, but one of the general comments I’ve seen repeatedly was that the film seemed like a rehash of Seven. Having now watched it, I disagree. I don’t think this film necessarily feels like Seven, since it lacks the criminal mastermind, religion, or even elaborate killings elements, but I also think it’s really that this film doesn’t do anything to set itself apart from most films about police chasing a murderer. Yes, the performances by the leads are all great, but the killer isn’t particularly interesting and the pacing on the revelations throughout the story is too slow. Even the final character moments of the film don’t really do much to win it back.

I think a lot of it is that Denzel’s starting to look gray, like Morgan Freeman.

Naturally, the performances in this movie are great. Denzel Washington does a great job of portraying Deacon, whose past is already made up of moral compromises. This gives him a perspective on policing than the more arrogant and fame-hungry Baxter, but ultimately also gives him a bit of a cooler head. Rami Malek walks the line of being likable throughout the film and you never quite know how much of his motive is genuine altruism and how much is his desire to advance his career. Jared Leto’s portrayal of Sparma is especially interesting. While he’s a jerk, you are never sure throughout his early scenes if he is the killer or not. 

Partially because the detectives in this are actually not very good.

Like I said, the movie largely just runs through the beats of every film that’s like this. There’s an optimist cop and a grizzled cop trying to find someone. Almost all of Washington and Malek’s interactions are so by-the-book that I was surprised it was written by John Lee Hancock, who did The Blind Side and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. However, it fell into place a little when I found out that he wrote this in 1993, before Seven came out and caused Hollywood to flood the genre for the last three decades. So, part of it is just that this film might have been ahead of its time if it had come out when it was written, but instead it feels derivative. Timing is everything, I guess. 

It’s still very well directed, though.

Overall, since the last point I want to address requires a spoiler, I’ll just say that this movie is not great. If you’re a big fan of Denzel, you can probably watch it. Otherwise, it’s just a little too slow and a little too long.

***SPOILERS***

The ending to the film, had it been built-up properly, might have been great. At the end of the film, Baxter accidentally kills Sparma after Sparma claimed he’d show him where a victim was buried. Right before dying, though, Sparma tells Baxter that he’s just been messing with the policeman and that he’s not a killer. Deacon tells Baxter to bury him and forget, then sends him a piece of evidence that would supposedly prove Sparma was the killer… only for it to be revealed that Deacon faked it. Sparma might have been innocent and there’s still a killer out there. This kind of ambiguity and the moral defeat on Malek’s face at the end of the film could have been great, but instead it just feels hollow. 

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Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – Suicide Squad Done Right

DC tries to give Harley Quinn a second shot at a decent film along with a team of female anti-heroes.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has been dumped by the Joker (Technically Jared Leto) and is setting out on her own. Unfortunately, during the process of moving on, she earns the ire of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), the supervillain and mob-boss known as the Black Mask. Sionis is being investigated by Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who also starts chasing Quinn. Montoya, Harley, singer/asskicker Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and assassin Helena “Huntress” Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) all get caught up in a plot involving Sionis and a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

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Montoya’s the only one smart enough to carry a gun. Or maybe sane enough.

END SUMMARY

I hated Suicide Squad. Admittedly, a lot of that was because I was angry that I had been suckered by the trailers into thinking it was going to be a good movie, even though I should have known from the earlier trailers that it was never going to work out. The way that characters were introduced, the generic plotlines, the constant desire to be “edgy” but never actually being edgy, all of that just made me hate that film. I even really didn’t like Margot Robbie’s version of Harley Quinn, but I don’t think it had to do with Robbie’s performance. The writing was just awful.

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This is the outfit she wears to fight an evil demi-god. The Fresh Prince has armor.

Unlike that movie’s over-the-top promotion, I almost didn’t realize this movie came out. The advertising focused so heavily on “the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn” over the Birds of Prey that, after Suicide Squad, I really wasn’t that interested in this movie. However, after hearing a few people praise the movie, I gave it a shot, and somehow this movie does almost everything Suicide Squad did, but does it mostly correctly. The writing is still bad, but it’s not AS bad and the characters and directing manage to mostly salvage it.

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And we don’t get a completely unearned “hero walk” in ours.

One of the biggest things about the movie is that it’s narrated by Harley Quinn who stylizes most of the narration, captions, and flashbacks. The first thing this does is actually justify the stylized character screens that were present throughout Suicide Squad, where the introductions were being done by Amanda Waller, a person who would never try to be that cutesy. Also, Waller’s explanations are to other people, whereas Harley is just crazy enough to talk to the imaginary audience. Harley breaking the fourth wall can be a bit over-the-top at times, but for the most part Robbie makes it charming. I’ll admit that the opening 10-15 minutes weren’t great, but once Harley gets a cheese sandwich, it starts to find its feet. In fairness, the sandwich was the emotional center of the movie. Still, having a good point of view to follow actually erases quite a few of the mistakes of its predecessor. 

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Being Fabulous helps.

It also helps that the character introductions are less “blatant narration” and more “scene depicting, through their actions, what kind of people they are.” I admit that Huntress’s backstory is way more narrated, but she’s so damned fun that I will overlook it. Moreover, the characters aren’t all introduced to us en masse, instead, they are explained when they enter the story. It feels less forced and the movie even admits that when the team finally comes together, they’re not really a team at that point, they’re just four women and a kid who have to work together out of necessity. Given their varied personalities and predilections, that’s really the only way they could have ever agreed to cooperate. 

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Professional killer, psychopathic psychiatrist, hero who needs a hair tie.

The characters are very different from their comic counterparts in a lot of ways, but it never annoyed me. Black Canary spends much of the movie refusing a call to heroism because her mother was killed being a superhero. Huntress was raised with a desire to kill her family’s murderers, but this has made her completely insecure and socially awkward. Rene Montoya, as played by Rosie Perez – Actually, I’m going to stop here and just give a round of applause to Rosie Perez for A) playing an action movie character over 50, B) getting work as a leading woman over 40 in a big budget film, and C) selling a character who admits to being a cliche half the time. Seriously, just… good job, Rosie. Anyway, Rene Montoya, as played by Rosie Perez, is a grizzled veteran who has been screwed over by the system repeatedly, a stark contrast to the naive rookie that the character was originally. Cassandra Cain is an in-name-only character, who bears no resemblance to the mute super martial artist of the comics. 

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This character is portrayed as socially awkward and it’s great.

Despite all of the changes, they just serve to drive home that this “team” really has nothing in common. Canary fights because she’s got just too much hero in her to let Sionis capture a girl, Harley does it because she likes Cassandra and because Sionis is going to kill her, Montoya believes in stopping Sionis even if the rest of the department doesn’t support her, and Huntress is just after vengeance. We have a vigilante, a self-serving antihero, a cop, and an assassin, and it somehow comes together organically for the final major action set piece.

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Spoiler: It involves Roller Skates and I love that they point out how insane that is.

Actually, I really liked all of the action sequences in this film. They vary a lot and many of them capture the fun slapstick element of violence that the John Wick films did well. I will admit that some of the gore is a bit more than I was expecting and, honestly, maybe more than the film needed, but they’re overall solid. 

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She uses a confetti gun at one point, just to balance it out.

I also loved Ewan McGregor’s performance as Roman Sionis. He perfectly nails a combination of psychopath and insecure over-compensating douche. He has no emotional strength and whines constantly, but due to his wealth and influence can get away with anything, so he just moves straight to violence as a response. He seems almost unbelievable as a human being, except that YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE MET THIS GUY ON THE INTERNET. It’s also amazing that he is utterly incapable of doing almost anything on his own, but is still threatening to everyone. It helps that his chief henchman, Zsasz (Chris Messina), is a grade-A serial killer, but still, McGregor sells that Sionis can be simultaneously weak and yet overwhelming.

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He’s not the comic book Black Mask, but he’s just so great.

Overall, I genuinely liked this film. I don’t know why it’s failing at the box office aside from the fact that it felt like a tacked-on sequel to a terrible movie, which it absolutely is not. I mean, it’s poorly written, but still better than Aquaman. I wonder if there’s a reason a female superteam movie with some admitted flaws would have 1/10th the box office of Jason Momoa in spandex, despite getting better critical and audience reviews? Dang it, Drogo…

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.