GANGSTER SQUAD is a big over-ripe plum of a film. It’s the kind of mid-budget studio flop that we don’t really see any more, where you can almost see a cigar-chomping producer’s thumbprints all over the celluloid: a bunch of disparate crowd-pleasing elements (flashy violence, all-star cast, sharp suits, men-on-a-mission) that execs think will be enough to fuel that crucial opening weekend in and of themselves, which have been slapped together by filmmakers who resolve to worry about populating it with characters, emotion and intrigue at a later date. Or, as is the case with Ruben Fleischer's GANGSTER SQUAD, never.
I made this time-travel comedy my first movie of 2013 after hearing good things from trusted parties, and despite a distribution strategy that seems half-hearted at best I was glad I made the effort to track it down.
Ultimate sulky girl-crush Aubrey Plaza plays Darius, a young woman at odds with the world who finds herself interning at a magazine for dickheads and doing assorted donkey work for flashy a-hole journalists. One such flashy a-hole (played by Jake Johnson, who initially distracts purely by dint of not being Mark Ruffalo but eventually turns in the best performance of the film in what will hopefully be a breakout role for him) suggests a puff-piece based on a recent classified ad, that states simply: “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.” After getting the commission, the journo sets off into the sticks with Darius and another intern, the intensely geeky Arnau, to find who placed the ad and start putting a piece together. However, the disaffected Darius begins to warm to the idea of an adventure and, particularly, the enticing prospect of time travel…
I’m sure my first viewing of SIGHTSEERS was affected by the burden of expectation I had placed on Ben Wheatley and his creative co-collaborators after the brilliant KILL LIST, but then even when taking that into account I have to admit that the film didn’t really work for me.
SIGHTSEERS sees a pair of social misfits in the nascent period of a romantic relationship, who embark on a caravanning holiday (their first together) that hums with the promise of sexual liberation and discovery for, particularly, the childlike Maggie, who lives with an overbearing mother and leads an otherwise sheltered existence. Chris is eager to show Maggie the ways of the world, whether sexual and pastoral, but their holiday is quickly derailed after the pair accidentally run over a man Chris had earlier admonished for some casual littering. Appreciating the kick of karmic retribution that this incident afforded them – or, more accurately, developing a taste for murder and death – the pair continue on with their holiday leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
I’m imagining watching EXCISION with a friend or family member, someone who watches a movie maybe once every ten days or so, whose favourite film is either ANCHORMAN or GLADIATOR or THE MATRIX, who feels relatively au fait with perversity after recently reading Fifty Shades of Grey, who doesn’t obsessively catalogue obscure cult movies, has nevered watched an anime, and thinks Dario Argento is the pizza you can get with an egg in the middle. Someone normal, in other words. 99% of the general popluation.
In my hypothetical viewing of the film with this person, it invariably ends with him or her turning towards me and saying, confidently, “That was the worst film I’ve ever seen.”
At this point I smile condescendingly and say, Ah, but didn’t you enjoy the performances? Did you not get a kick out of seeing shiny 90210 star AnnaLynne McCord reinvent her teen-queen persona as a fetid, pestilential weirdo? Did you not enjoy seeing Traci Lords, of all people, giving a genuinely funny, deeply felt and convincing turn as a mother at the end of her parenting tether?
“Nope”, they say.