February 01, 2013

Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad is a less exciting variation on L.A. Confidential.

It's 1949, and in Los Angeles, everything runs on mobster Mickey Cohen's watch. L.A.'s police chief (Nick Nolte) creates a special, secret task force to go after Cohen's capital and bring him down. Considering the story, and the cast--which includes Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, and Robert Patrick, as cops, Sean Penn as Cohen, and Emma Stone as Cohen's moll, Gangster Squad should have been a lot better than it is. It's marred by clumsy writing and conventional plotting. The script is by Will Beall, and the film was directed by Ruben Fleischer. Both of them seem preoccupied with making Gangster Squad as gruesome and brutal as possible--without sacrificing their love of cheap sentiment: [Spoiler ahead] Brolin's pregnant wife survives after two of Cohen's men riddle her house with bullets, and when Brolin arrives, he follows the trail of blood into the bathroom only to find that she isn't dead; she has given birth. A cheap shot, the kind of trickery that outs an incompetent director faster than you can say "give me a break."

As ridiculous as it is--and it is quite ridiculous--Gangster Sqaud is compulsively watchable in its badness, and it has a sleek, colorful, shallow charm to it. The casting is intriguing, and yet somehow unlikely: Brolin is never convincing as a would-be family man, and Gosling is little more than a comic book character (he's still very enjoyable); Emma Stone, who is always likable, somehow feels miscast, although she isn't bad; meanwhile, Sean Penn turns into Freddy Kreuger, chewing up the scenery like a psychotic pair of scissors.

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