The United States of Leland

Rated 2.0 This one’s a puzzler. A high-school kid (Ryan Gosling) kills his ex-girlfriend’s mentally challenged brother, and a prison teacher (Don Cheadle) tries to see what makes the little nutball click. It’s hard to determine what writer-director Matthew Ryan Hoge is trying to say with his movie. Gosling, as Leland, portrays the killer as somebody with a big heart who just wanted to end the boy’s “pain.” While he’s usually a pretty good actor, his work here is aggravating, mush-mouthed and monotone. The performance comes off as a strange attempt to portray a cute killer, somebody who can garner the viewer’s sympathy while stabbing kids. That in itself is pretty strange, but what’s even stranger is how little time the film spends on the actual victim, just a dead body to move the plot along. If this is supposed to be some sort of study on what goes on inside a killing youth’s head, then somebody should’ve told Gosling to act like a real human being instead of a robot. Every time he talks, the movie stands still in a bad way. It’s a shame because an excellent performance by Chris Klein as a confused classmate is wasted. (CR)