REVIEW: Gangster Squad

7 01 2013

Gangster SquadThere were two clear paths to success for “Gangster Squad.”  The first would be to follow the “L.A. Confidential” pattern and take a hardboiled approach to period criminality.  Writer Will Beale crafts his screenplay with various neo-noir elements: the post-war moodiness and shadiness, a little bit of moral ambiguity, and of course, the femme fatale (Emma Stone’s red-haired dynamo Grace Faraday).

The second, and perhaps more reasonable, template would have been Brian DePalma’s 1987 “The Untouchables,” a movie that shares quite a few similarities with Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad.”  There’s the borderline insane crime lord of a major city who just happens to be played by a two-time Oscar winner (Sean Penn now, Robert DeNiro then).  Because of that de facto tyrant’s chokehold on that city, a team of top law enforcement officials is tasked with bringing him to his knees.

The only difference is Eliot Ness and the Untouchables stayed within the boundaries of the law.  Josh Brolin’s John O’Mara, Ryan Gosling’s Jerry Wooters, and the rest of the titular merry band of extralegal avengers have no such regard for the rules.  They go outside the law to stop a man who is above the law.  But in such a drastically different detail, little new conclusions are ultimately reached.

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REVIEW: 30 Minutes or Less

10 08 2011

Comparison sucks, especially when you invite yourself to be judged against a fantastically entertaining comedic marvel like “Zombieland.”  While Ruben Fleischer’s directorial debut was a fun, creative comedy, his second go-round,”30 Minutes or Less,” is exactly the opposite.  It feels like something Adam Sandler didn’t have time to squeeze in his schedule between “The Waterboy” and “Big Daddy.”

It’s full of stupid, expected gags that produce some mild laughs, but we’re long past the point of diminishing returns with these worn-out premises.  Not to mention it’s disappointing to watch two emerging comedic stars and one very funny serious actor fail to breathe any sort of energy into this limp vehicle for cheap humor.  The movie is hardly bad by anyone’s standards, and summer 2011 has seen a lot worse in this genre (cough, “The Change-Up“).  But as I often add on middling movies, there have been a lot better (case in point, “Bridesmaids“), and if you just HAVE to watch something funny, this may provide a little more than the minimum satisfaction level you need to make your time and money worthwhile.

The movie serves up double the buddy comedy as moronic pals Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) strap a homemade bomb to unsuspecting pizza boy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) in order to make him rob a bank so they can pay a crazed assassin (Michael Peña) to put the hit on Dwayne’s dad.  Reeling, Nick hits up his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) – while he is teaching middle schoolers no less – to help him commit a multitude of criminal acts.  As their day spirals out of control and into the realm of the farcical, the wild ride of both pair of companions manages to garner a few decent (albeit cheap) laughs.

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