August 01, 2013

Mexican Vacation Day 3: Getting Burned By GANGSTER SQUAD


"Always knew I'd die in Burbank."
Pro Tip: If traveling to Mexico in July, you may want a stronger sunscreen than SPF 30.

I've got some pretty strong Sicilian roots, so I've always tanned pretty easily.  I usually go with an SPF 15 if I use sunscreen at all and reserve the 30 for the times I've taken a cruise to the Bahamas or the Caribbean.  But I got a bit too much sun on our last vacation in February, so this trip I'd been slathering on the 30 from day one.  Despite my careful precautions, my long shirtless walk on day one plus the next morning spent snorkeling on the beach in Akumal, a.k.a. the land of sea turtles, resulted in my shoulders becoming pretty much roasted by the afternoon.  After a quick snack of empanadas and mojitos, we staked out a new beach spot in the shade of a palm tree and did our best to stay out of the sun for a few hours before grabbing a late lunch of fish tacos and cervezas and then driving back to Tulum.  By then we both had a hankering for air conditioning so we stayed inside and watched Reuben Fleischer's Gangster Squad.

Jamie probably summed it up best: "I wouldn't have been so disappointed if the trailers for that movie hadn't been so awesome."

On paper the movie sounds brilliant: a 40's yarn based on a true story about a small band of honest cops led by Josh Brolin who take on Jewish gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) as he tries to cement his hold on organized crime in Los Angeles.  Throw in a romance between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone plus a supporting cast that includes Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte as the chief of police and T-1000 himself Robert Patrick as an aging gunhand and tie it together with a creative up and coming director (Fleischer) who's demonstrated a talent for fun, well staged action in flicks like Zombieland and 30 Minutes Or Less and you should have a recipe for success.  Unfortunately the script by Will Beall simply never delivers on all that promise.  The trailers had me expecting L.A. Confidential 2.0, but instead I got a poor man's Untouchables.

Penn is a worthy successor to DeNiro's Capone, in that he absolutely tears up every frame he's in; Penn doesn't so much chew the scenery as he devours it whole.  But other than one good fist fight with Brolin at the end, he doesn't really have a whole lot to do.  Brolin's John O'Mara is surly and bullheaded but not exactly the kind of guy who can out-think Cohen, to the point that after a while it feels like his success is due mostly to dumb luck.  Ribisi is the squad's Jiminey Cricket and we spend a lot of time with him and his family that would have been better served fleshing out the barebones romance between Gosling and Stone.  Both are phenomenally talented and they demonstrated an abundance of chemistry together in Crazy Stupid Love, but the two are given precious little screen time together.  Most of their relationship is basically left to the viewer's imagination, as the film cuts from the first time they meet and sleep together to their first fight weeks later.  The whole thing feels sloppy and I wouldn't care except that their relationship becomes crucial to the plot very late in the game, so it's not exactly the kind of thing you can brush off.

But that kind of criticism is true of the whole script.  Everything feels a bit out of whack, like Beal was so scared of shortchanging one character that we're left with only broad sketches of everyone and really care about no one.  For example, we're constantly reminded that Robert Patrick is an amazing sharpshooter but the only time we see him display his marksmanship is when he shoots a tin can six times in the air.  The movie is constantly telling us stuff like this without giving us the chance to see any of it play out naturally.  That being said, it's not really a bad flick.  Everyone's clearly giving it their all and Fleischer does a solid job staging most of the gunplay (he relies a lot on speed ramping but that's never really bothered me) and his recreation of 1940's Los Angeles is just gorgeous to look at.  It's a time and place that feels nothing short of magical.  It's actually kind of goofy and fun in a way, and I'm convinced a slightly tighter script would have really put this thing over the top.  So long as you're not expecting a prestige period film and you just surrender to it's frothy, wannabe pulp, then Gangster Squad is not half bad.

After the movie we walked down to El Asadero, where we had the specialty of the house:



That's arrachera (a grilled, marinated flank steak) with chorizo, a roasted jalapeno, grilled cactus and a roasted potato with cheese and grilled chicken.  The cheese on the potato was sort of gloppy and strange, but everything else was fantastic, served with homemade corn tortillas.

Because everything is better wrapped in home made corn tortillas.

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Title: Gangster Squad
Director: Reuben Fleischer
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Redbox DVD