The Films of Ruben Fleischer
Gumball 3000: 6 Days in May
Zombieland (October 2/09)
Over-the-top and gleefully irreverent, Zombieland follows four disparate characters (Jesse Eisenberg's Columbus, Woody Harrelson's Tallahassee, Emma Stone's Wichita, and Abigail Breslin's Little Rock) as they reluctantly band together in the face of a pervasive zombie outbreak. First-time filmmaker Ruben Fleischer has infused Zombieland with a fast-paced, thoroughly enthusiastic sensibility that proves effective at initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings, with the palpable chemistry between Eisenberg and Harrelson certainly playing an instrumental role in cementing the film's early success. It's consequently not surprising to note that the movie's momentum does take a bit of a hit following the introduction of Stone and Breslin's respective characters, though this is admittedly more the fault of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's screenplay than of the actresses themselves - as their initial efforts at swindling Columbus and Tallahassee simply ring false given the severity of the situation (ie it's impossible to swallow that these two would attempt to con the only two non-zombies around for miles). There's little doubt, however, that the film bounces back with a vengeance somewhere around the midway point, as the increasingly compelling foursome encounter a familiar face while passing through the Hollywood Hills - with this hilarious yet all-too-short lived stretch undoubtedly establishing itself as a highlight within the proceedings and ultimately justifying Zombieland's entire existence. The anticlimactic nature of the final 20 minutes - ie Fleischer replaces the freneticism of the opening hour with a disappointingly conventional horror-movie sort of vibe - ensures that the film is inevitably at its best in its early stages, with one's inherent interest in movies of this ilk essentially determining one's willingness to overlook its various flaws.
30:Minutes or Less
30:Minutes or Less casts Jesse Eisenberg as Nick, an affable slacker whose job delivering pizza eventually brings him into contact with a couple of moronic criminals (Danny McBride's Dwayne and Nick Swardson's Travis) - with the film's thin plot kicked into gear after the two men strap a bomb to Nick's chest and force him to rob a bank. Though it runs just under an hour and a half, 30:Minutes or Less boasts a fairly plodding sensibility that generally ensures it feels a whole lot longer - with director Ruben Fleischer's freewheeling sensibilities effectively highlighting the various deficiencies within Michael Diliberti's meandering screenplay. The most obvious problem here is the aggressive manner by which Fleischer attempts to elicit laughs, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a desperately over-the-top feel that's reflected most keenly in the uniformly (and tediously) broad performances. (Very little of this, however, is actually funny.) The increasingly frenetic bent of Diliberti's script admittedly prevents the viewer from tuning out completely, with the robbery itself, which is handled surprisingly well, proving effective at all-too-briefly injecting the proceedings with a burst of much-needed energy. But, and this is the bottom line, there's simply never a point at which the film's one-dimensional characters become compelling enough to warrant all this action and mayhem, with the pervasively superficial atmosphere ultimately cementing 30:Minutes or Less' place as a disappointingly empty piece of work.
Gangster Squad (March 3/13)
Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Gangster Squad follows a group of tough-talking '40s detectives - including Josh Brolin's John O'Mara, Ryan Gosling's Jerry Wooters, and Anthony Mackie's Coleman Harris - as they endeavor to take down a ruthless, vicious mob kingpin named Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Filmmaker Fleischer, working from Will Beall's screenplay, has infused Gangster Squad with a slick and incredibly fast-paced feel that is, at the outset, impossible to resist, with the engaging, entertaining atmosphere heightened by the efforts of an eclectic supporting cast that boasts, among others, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Giovanni Ribisi. The progressively familiar atmosphere becomes more and more problematic, however, as there's ultimately little here that viewers haven't seen countless times before - with Beall's continuing reliance on hackneyed elements paving the way for a midsection that is, for the most part, watchable yet far from gripping. (Fleischer has, admittedly, peppered the narrative with a handful of unexpectedly enthralling moments, with the best and most potent example of this a stirring shootout involving Gosling's ambivalent character.) The movie's less-than-engrossing vibe is exacerbated by Dion Beebe's dishearteningly underwhelming cinematography, with the slick and impossible-to-ignore digital sheen lending many sequences, particularly those set at night, a low-rent feel that proves disastrous - with the cheap-looking climactic stretch certainly standing as an apt example of this. The end result is a passable - just barely - thriller that benefits substantially from the efforts of its star-heavy cast, which is a shame, undoubtedly, given the endless potential afforded by the film's palpably promising setup.