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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
A few weeks ago, I had a difficult time tying a theme to the films I covered for the twenty-second installment of this feature. Today, I think the theme could be something to the effect of “aging stars look incredibly bored,” but even that’s a bit dubious and unnecessarily pedantic. I have struggled recently with bouts of writer’s block, tying up loose ends in my features, and making an ultimate point, be it in a review or a feature for this site. Each has been difficult for me. In short, I’ll get back to themes when they matter and can be more easily identified, and until that time I’ll just write about what I want and try my best to be coherent.
Gangster Squad (2012, technically)
Ruben Fleischer has had an up and down career in Hollywood thus far. He has directed a huge hit (Zombieland) and a flop (30 Minutes or Less), each of which featured Jesse Eisenberg in the lead role. As an aside, Eisenberg is an actor I feel gets both under-utilized and over-criticized. Both of these films seemed like vehicles for rising-star Eisenberg, who was on the verge of hitting it big in Hollywood, eventually parlaying his talents into a lead role in 2010’s The Social Network. The jury remained out on journeyman filmmaker Fleischer, who looked to become either a studio director or an oddball Hollywood rogue, directing whatever he wanted because his movies are cheap to shoot. Fleischer’s latest film, the Eisenberg-free Gangster Squad, is somewhat akin to both camps. Gangster Squad seems derivative of past films such as LA Confidential and The Untouchables, the kind of same-y shit a studio director would make for a film distributor seeking a quick buck. But it also has elements of a more unique production due to the inclusion of Ryan Gosling, a multi-ethnic ensemble cast, enough violence for a hundred generic mob movies, and a script that seems full of anachronisms. Despite the suave demeanor bubbling over its surface, Gangster Squad hasn’t done too well in the box office. So, what exactly went wrong?
Gangster Squad met face-to-face with controversy after a mentally-ill psychopath went on a murderous rampage during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. The problem for Gangster Squad is that the movie featured a scene involving a theater getting shot up with tommy guns, and the studio, Warner Bros., opted to delay the film, reshoot the theater scene, and release it at a more sensitive time so as not to disrespect the victims of the tragedy. The delay, from September 2012 to early January 2013, meant Gangster Squad would be competing against critically acclaimed films like Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, and Les Miserables, tall order indeed. It didn’t help that, outside of lead actor Ryan Gosling and supporting player Emma Stone, everyone else just looked like they didn’t want to be there. From the million times I saw the trailer over the past year (I’m seriously super stoked that I can go to the movies now and *not* see this trailer), I can’t help but feel that Sean Penn and Josh Brolin look really, really fucking bored. Even Gosling, who normally seems game in whatever movie he’s making, doesn’t look all that interested.
Reviews came in on the negative side as well, with Rotten Tomatoes compiling an aggregate score of 33% for Gangster Squad. Director Fleischer was singled-out and criticized for his direction by film critic Jeff Shannon, noting that Fleischer couldn’t decide if he wanted to make a serious-minded mob movie or spoof one. Shannon also blames the director for mishandling the Gosling/Stone romance, which had played to great effect in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid Love. The level of violence in the film was also touched on by several critics. In a review for the AV Club, critic Nathan Rabin referred to Gangster Squad as “an unusually violent fashion show,” a critique that touches upon the stylized nature of the film in addition to it copious amounts of unnecessary violence. Gangster Squad was expected to open at around 20 million when it debuted during the weekend of January 10th. It ended up on the low end of expectations, with around 17 million. It lost half its audience during its second weekend in theaters, and will ultimately fall short of grossing back its 60 million dollar budget. Where Fleischer’s career goes from here is anyone’s guess.