Gangster Squad

January 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”)
Written by: Will Beall (TV’s “Castle”)

As enjoyable as director Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 film “Zombieland” was (and to a lesser extent “30 Minutes or Less” in 2011), his foray into the criminal world of the 1940s with “Gangster Squad” is far from having the entertainment value a cast of this magnitude demands. It’s a glossed-over crime drama that feels like it’s been pulled straight from the Sunday funnies.

Hamming it up for the camera is two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn as gang leader and former boxer Mickey Cohen (an over-the-top role much like Al Pacino played in “Dick Tracy). If you need to know anything about Mickey, it’s that he owns everything in the Chicago area. You want guns? Go to Mickey. You want drugs? Mickey’s your man. You don’t play by the rules? Guess whose sending his tommy gun-toting goons to fill you with holes. Mickey.

On the right side of the law is Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), who is given the task of recruiting a team of renegade police officers to do what very few lawmen would be brave enough to do: cross Mickey and his thugs and shut down his mob syndicate. Nevertheless, Sgt. O’Mara (with the help of his concerned wife, who “hand picks” the men she feels would best suit the job; a ridiculous notion) finds his men. They include Officers Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his right-hand man Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), the latter of whom has started to bed Mickey leading lady Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) because he can.

Aside from wishing it could be just as enticing as Brian De Palmas’ 1987 film “The Untouchables” (or any other acclaimed film in the genre of the last 75 years for that matter), “Gangster Squad” is not much more than a collection of talented actors playing dress up in their parent’s closet. Although the story based on true events, it’s diluted by Fleischer’s style-over-substance approach, which worked well in “Zombieland,” but not so much here. Will Beall’s screenplay also leaves much to be desired in character development. Each member of the skeleton crew Sgt. O’Mara fashions together is thinly-written.

What is a bit meatier, however, is Fleischer’s eye for ultra violence, which is bountiful throughout “Squad”  but ultimately gives the narrative minimal boost. If Fleischer and Beall focuses as much attention to the relationships and characters arcs as they did ripping a guy in half between two classic cars, “Gangster Squad” could’ve been a contender…at least in the amateur ranks.

30 Minutes or Less

August 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”)
Written by: Michael Diliberti (debut)

For most pizza delivery guys, a bad day might involve getting lost in a shady neighborhood, showing up late with an order, or getting stiffed on a tip. For underachieving pizza guy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a bad day is finding yourself with a bomb strapped to your chest as part of a half-cooked plot by two wannabe criminals. This premise sets the stage for “30 Minutes or Less,” a comedy that boasts more laughs than any other film this summer.

In order to hire a hitman to kill his overbearing Marine father and leave him with a huge inheritance, do-nothing slacker Dwayne (Danny McBride) and his friend Travis (Nick Swardson) devise a scheme to strap a bomb to a pizza delivery man and force him to rob a bank. After Nick grasps the situation he is in, he goes to the only person he can, his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) as they are forced to put aside their differences and try to get Nick out of the situation.

Eisenberg and Ansari display great chemistry as old high school buddies who constantly bounce jokes and insults off of each other. Eisenberg sheds the socially-awkward character we’ve come to know from many of his comedic performances and plays a confident regular guy, which is a welcome departure. However, a bigger revelation is the performance from Ansari, who is poised to become a comedic star on the big screen.  Best known for his work as a stand-up comedian and his role on TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” Ansari finally gets a major film role and takes full advantage of it.  He zips through a Rolodex of one-liners and ends up with one of the best joke-to-laugh ratios in a comedy this year. It is hard to even call his hilarious non-sequitors “throwaway lines” because even those elicit laughs. Watching these two forced to commit crimes with no clue of what they’re doing is a deep well and never wears out its welcome.

Although still funny in small doses, the weaker duo in the film is McBride and Swardson as faux criminals. McBride has proven to be an acquired taste with his usual routine of unleashing a barrage of improvised vulgarities with varying success. Swardson is a good, albeit small addition as the more tentative Travis, but it is clear that McBride is there for the comedy and Swardson is there to ground him.

This is the kind of comedy that isn’t exactly high concept or deeply meaningful. There’s drug and alcohol intake, crude and sometimes mean-spirited jokes, as well as plans that aren’t too well thought-out and bombs that are too cleverly rigged to be from a couple of know-nothing buffoons.

Despite its lack of depth, “30 Minutes or Less” succeeds where most of the summer comedies this year have failed: its gags are consistent from start to finish.  The one-liners from most of the characters are memorable and director Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) gets a lot of mileage from the pithy dialogue at the expense of the situation. While “30 Minutes or Less” won’t set a new standard for the comedy genre, it’s a breezy 83-minute caper that’ll gives fans of R-rated material something to cheer about.


October 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (debut)
Written by: Rhett Reese (“Cruel Intentions 3”) and Paul Wernick (debut)
It’s all about survival of the fittest in the riotous new zom-com (zombie comedy) “Zombieland,” a surprisingly fresh crack at the subgenre by first-time director Ruben Fleischer. It’s also a farther step away from the type of movies director George A. Romero popularized in the late 60s. To put it simply: “Zombieland” isn’t your grandma’s zombie movie.
Zombie flicks first started evolving in 2003 when British director Edgar Wright and comedians Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made destroying a zombie’s brain a hilarious delight instead of a chore in the insanely clever “Shaun of the Dead.” Now, in “Zombieland,” Fleischer stylizes his own outrageous war against the undead and does it in a most amusing way.
Reminiscent of the book “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead,” in which author Max Brooks gives tips about how to survive in a world flooded with flesh-eaters, “Zombieland” serves up its own thoughtful pointers. Here to guide the audience through the post-apocalyptic United States is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a delicate young loner who has managed to avoid becoming a zombie’s midday snack by following his own personal rules for survival.

On his way to Ohio to see if his parents are still alive, Columbus (no one uses their real names to avoid personal attachment) teams up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), an eccentric, Twinkie-craving cowboy who packs some serious heat and loves showing off his zombie-killing skills whenever he gets the chance.

Tallahassee gets to do a lot of point-blank-range shooting since that’s basically what “Zombieland” is all about. Without much of a plot, Fleisher, who comes from the music video industry, pays specific attention to the crazy ways zombies meet their demise. Sisters Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) join the diverse group and set off on a road trip to a rumored zombie-free theme park. No one believes it’ll really be safe there, but what else are they going to do with their time?

As Tallahassee, Harrelson steals the show in the same manner as Robert Downey Jr. does in “Tropic Thunder.” Harrelson might not earn an Oscar nod like Downey did, but it’s definitely his funniest role since playing Roy Munson, a one-handed bowler in 1996’s Farrelly Brother comedy “Kingpin.” 

While it’s almost impossible to offer up anything new in zombie mythology (here the zombies emerge from a strain of mad cow disease), it’s the playful and mischievous dark humor that makes “Zombieland’ such a hoot.