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Movie Review: Gangster Squad
  • January 14, 2013 : 01:01
  • comments

Director: Ruben Fleischer
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Village Roadshow Pictures

A secret squad of upright, two-fisted LAPD officers gets assigned to crush Mickey Cohen, California’s vicious mob kingpin of the ’40s, in Gangster Squad.

Based on screenwriter (and former homicide detective) Will Beall’s adaptation of Paul Lieberman’s much better 2012 nonfiction book, the Ruben Fleischer-directed movie conjures up images of great old-time gangster flicks that once starred genuine tough guys like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni. This one's not even close, though. In fact, it's a cartoonish, heavily fantasized shoot-’em-up that is all pinstripe suits, slicked-back hair and 'tude but zero substance.

In it, the brand spanking new LAPD chief, played by Nick Nolte, recruits a pack of cops like war hero Josh Brolin, ladies’ man Ryan Gosling, surveillance ace Giovanni Ribisi, rookie Michael Peña, old-time buckaroo Robert Patrick and ambitious beat officer Anthony Mackie. Their mission is to stop criminals running the drug, sex and extortion game from taking over post-World War II Los Angeles. That means bringing down Cohen, played by Sean Penn like a snarling, charmless, one-note mad dog while wearing prosthetic makeup that looks straight out of Dick Tracy 2.

Cohen’s looking to corner the bookmaking market, but he’s also doing the town with his latest sad, sultry, dangerous dame, played unconvincingly by Emma Stone. Despite cool and sexy production design, spiffy costumes and hair, let alone CGI, meant to evoke Hollywood clubs, streets, houses and the vibe of the ’40s, Gangster Squad has a tin ear.

The movie is packed with terrific actors, but their roles are paper thin and one dimensional—the whole movie seems to be geared only to the next gunfight, explosion or crescendo. Nothing sticks, nothing matters. Okay, so maybe nobody expected Gangster Squad to be in the league of, say, Chinatown or L.A. Confidential, but even on the level of pure, bullet-spattered fun, this thing is so vaporous that it slides out of memory even while you’re watching it.

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