Gangster Squad

Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone | R |

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DRAMA

The blonde in the train station is new in town, and trust me, they don't make 'em any dumber. So, does Sgt. John O'Mara (Brolin) warn her that the mook she's talking to is a thug, not a Hollywood talent scout? Nah. He just follows the pair back to the hideout, knocks a bunch of bad guys around, then rescues the dame. But that's O'Mara for you—a man in full possession of a hero complex but lacking any semblance of finesse or sense. The whole movie is like that.

Intensely violent and dripping with period detail, Gangster Squad would have you believe that it's in the same tradition as The Untouchables or L.A. Confidential, but it's a sad knockoff in spite of its A-list cast. The gist is that O'Mara leads an off-the-books cop crew-including Gosling as the hot one and Giovanni Ribisi as the smart one-looking to take down ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen, a salty slab of ham played by Penn. (Forgive Penn. He's just trying to live up to the Dick Tracy-villain mask that is Cohen's face.) Though it has no shortage of bullets, the movie has nothing new to add to the cops-and-mobsters genre, with its forehead-slapper of a plot bursting with clichés. Plus it wastes Stone as Cohen's two-timing moll Grace, giving her nothing to do but look pretty and/or vulnerable. An actress that talented used as a prop? Now that's criminal.

Quartet

Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly | PG-13 |

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COMEDY

The news about Quartet, a light comedy of manners about the denizens of a home for retired opera singers, is that it's Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut. Here's wishing that he had put more of a stamp on it. As it is, the film is perfectly pleasant but entirely forgettable.

Smith stars as Jean, the home's newest occupant. She's believable as a diva, just not necessarily the singing kind. Her arrival flusters longtime resident Reggie (Tom Courtenay), who happens to be Jean's ex-husband. He's also part of a quartet famous for singing Verdi that's reunited with Jean's arrival. You can guess the rest: Old loves and old wounds flare up, friendships are tested, and opera gets a cinematic love letter from Hoffman. With Connolly providing ribald comic relief as a randy tenor, Quartet is just entertaining enough for a Downton Abbey fan to pass a chilly afternoon.

On the Road

Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst | R |

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DRAMA

I'll never understand the affection-literary or otherwise-for Dean Moriarty (Hedlund), the hero of Jack Kerouac's treatise on the beat generation. Dean is a sponge, always drunk or high, who can't choose between his ex-wife Marylou (Stewart), or his new one, Camille (Dunst). On the Road doesn't exactly get him either. The film can't capture the spirit or spontaneity of the book, in which Kerouac cast himself as writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), wandering across the country with various vagabond pals. It does, however, serve Stewart, who drops her trademark glower to play the sex pistol Marylou, willing to do whatever (or whoever) Dean tells her to. It's also a nice star turn for Riley, who gives Sal a wide-eyed admiration for Dean that feels genuine, however ill-advised.

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BREAKOUT STARS!

Eddie Redmayne

HE'S A CLASS ACT

The London native, 31, who plays young revolutionary Marius, went to Eton (with Prince William!) and Cambridge. His parents were skeptical of his pursuing acting as a career until Kim Cattrall presented him an Outstanding Newcomer award for his stage work in 2004: "When my dad saw Samantha from Sex and the City was giving me a prize, then he knew something was going right."

HE'S A LES MIS FAN FROM WAY BACK

"I saw it when I was 7," he says. "I wanted to be [street urchin] Gavroche!" Redmayne sang as a kid but underwent serious vocal training for the demanding movie: "You literally have to retrain the muscles in your throat to have the stamina."

HE'S PALS WITH SPIDER-MAN

"One of my best friends is Andrew Garfield. That's what's wonderful about us British actors who started in London together. Now I have friends everywhere."

Samantha Barks

SHE WAS DISCOVERED ON A TV TALENT SHOW

Raised on the U.K. dependency the Isle of Man, Barks, 22, got her big break on the British talent show I'll Do Anything, judged by Les Mis producer Cameron Mackintosh. "I didn't expect to get past round one," she says. "But I came in third and got an agent from it."

SHE DID LES MIS ONSTAGE FIRST

In 2009 she joined the London production as Eponine, the streetwise girl who pines for Marius. To nab the role in the movie, she beat out A-listers including Taylor Swift and Lea Michele. "Just to audition was the coolest thing!" she says. "I had never done a film. It was a huge gamble."

SHE BONDED WITH THE BIG STARS

At one cast dinner, "Anne Hathaway and I stood up on this glass table and sang "Take Me or Leave Me" from Rent. We all bonded over music. And Russell Crowe invited me to sing with his band in New York!"