Consider the new movie Gangster Squad and its obvious model (so obvious it could be a remake), The Untouchables by Brian De Palma.
The Untouchables is corny. It knows it is corny. It trundles out all the ancient tricks of audience manipulation—ratcheting up the suspense with slow-motion (Gun battle on the steps of the train station, baby in carriage rolling down the stairs…), wallowing in sentimentality (We hear the aria from Pagliacci as the grizzled old cop drags his bullet-riddled body across the floor; cut to the villain watching the opera with tears streaming down his cheeks!), whipping up the audience’s blood lust (“Push him off the building! Do it!!”), directing our emotions with a fantastic score by Ennio Morricone. The characters are stereotypes: the straight arrow (Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness), the aged veteran/mentor (Sean Connery), the nerd (Charlie Martin Smith as the accountant who figures out how to get Capone) and the ethnic minority (Andy Garcia).
The villain, real-life mobster Al Capone, is gleefully overacted by Robert De Niro. De Palma even calls attention to how archaic these tricks are by ripping off the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin. Hell if you’re going to borrow from a movie, borrow from the best. It doesn’t hurt that the screenplay is by David Mamet, the man who makes banality and profanity sound like music. In sum, The Untouchables embraces its corniness and runs with it, in the process achieving something sort of sublime.
Gangster Squad is baduy. It is corny, but it thinks it is cool. It trundles out all the ancient tricks of audience manipulation, but director Ruben Fleischer seems to believe he just invented this stuff; in the process he makes a movie that is both hackneyed and pretentious. Wow, oxymoron. The characters are stereotypes: the straight arrow (Josh Brolin), the aged veteran/mentor (Robert Patrick), the nerd (Giovanni Ribisi), and the ethnic minorities (Michael Pena and Antony Mackie). “Character” is overstating it—they have none. You know on sight which ones are going to die, and in what sequence. To sex it up for the contemporary audience Gangster Squad tacks on the hot dame (Emma Stone) and the cool dude (Ryan Gosling, we love you), both of whom could be written out of the story. Come to think of it, they can all be written out of the story, because this movie doesn’t have to exist.
The villain, real-life mobster Mickey Cohen, is overacted by Sean Penn, who takes out all the fun and replaces it with capital-s Seriousness. In the big action sequence Mickey Cohen emerges from the elevator toting a machine gun and starts shooting in slow-motion. Yiiiiiiiiii. The screenplay is full of pseudo-profundities about “his will to power” and how “Violence was his means…and his end.” Oy vey, someone’s been taking a Philo 1 class. Some characters are flat, others just don’t make sense. We love Emma Stone, but her mob moll is too wholesome to suggest a woman desperate or scheming enough to shack up with a psychotic murderer. Why does that other guy suddenly turn on his boss? What is Nick Nolte doing here? How did they get a first-rate cast to sign up for this fourth-rate bag of cliches?
In short, Gangster Squad is baduy.