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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 8.33%
Average: 29.17%
Pretty Bad33.33%
Total Crap: 29.17%

3 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Gangster Squad
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by Peter Sobczynski

"In Color!"
1 stars

Well, that certainly didn't take very long. As I write this, we are only a little more than a week into 2013 but moviegoers looking for the year's first major-league misfire--the kind of film that theoretically should have worked but fails to do so in spectacular fashion--need not look any further than the dismal "Gangster Squad."Dramatically inert, historically suspect, poorly acted and borderline fascist to boot in its apparent endorsement of the lighter side of police brutality, this is one of those movies that flies off the rails so quickly and thoroughly that I found myself more curious about how a mess like this could actually get approved, produced and released--especially with such a strong cast of actors--than in anything that was going on up on the screen. Something must have gone very wrong at some point because the end result is a half-baked misfire that openly attempts to ape the classics of the genre but lacks the edge, excitement and raw dramatic power of "Bugsy Malone" and "Johnny Dangerously."

Set in 1949, the films opens with legendary gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) brutally solidifying his plans to become the lead crime figure of Los Angeles by eliminating his rivals and seizing control of virtually all the bookmaking action in the western United States. Clearly, this cannot stand but with no one foolhardy enough to testify against him and his numerous criminal enterprises, the police are legally powerless to do anything. In a desperate move, the chief of police (Nick Nolte) charges the dedicated and scrupulously honest Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to assemble a small group of cops to bust up Cohen's operations and drive him out of town. With the help of his hugely pregnant wife, puts together a team of distinct stereotypes--a hunky heartthrob (Ryan Gosling), an old-timer (Robert Patrick), an African-American who is quick with a knife (Anthony Mackie), a Hispanic (MIchael Pena) and a nerd (Giovanni Ribisi). After a couple of false starts, the group begins wreaking havoc on Cohen's organization by blowing things up and smacking people around and Cohen soon begins to respond in kind. To complicate matters further, Cohen's slinky moll (Emma Stone) is now sleeping with the hunky cop in a move that puts her in danger as well.

Although there are so many things wrong with "Gangster Squad" that a review threatens to devolve into a list of its considerable flaws, one of the biggest and most glaring problems that it has is one of tone. For someone making a violent period gangster film of this sort, there are a number of approaches that one could apply to the material. They could go the way that Brian De Palma went with his classic "The Untouchables" and go for an operatic take filled with broad archetypes and broader cinematic gestures. They could have gone the "L.A. Confidential" route by telling its story in a low-key and realistic style that would expertly weave fact and fiction together. Then again, the could have done what Robert Rodriguez did with "Sin City" and present everything in a highly stylish manner in which everything was designed to self-consciously evoke the trappings of genre in their extremes in every frame to such a degree that it isn't so much film noir as it is "FILM NOIR."

The trouble with "Gangster Squad" is that director Reuben Fleischer and screenwriter Will Beall evidently could not decide on which approach to take and instead chose to apply all of the ones that I have cited above almost at random. From "The Untouchables," we get flamboyant gunfight (including a key one set on a staircase) and the sight of a two-time Oscar-winning actor chewing the scenery while playing a real-life gangster. From "L.A. Confidential," there are stabs at showing the gritty reality of organized crime and corruption that often got left out of the gangster movies of the era. From "Sin City," the dialogue, costumes and settings are self-conscious evocations of the old-time crime movies and also includes ironic humor and highly stylized visuals that at certain points stop so as to accentuate their resemblance to comic strip panels. The trouble is that these different approaches wind up clashing rather than complementing each other and the shifts in tone become so jarring that it often feels as if you are channel-hopping between several different films. Then again, the script is such a mess--a tired combination of generic plotting and one-dimensional characters mixed together with savage violence that is strangely presented in a borderline gleeful manner that adds one more discordant note to the proceedings--that even if Fleischer had found the right tone, it still would not have helped to bring any cohesion to this mess.

Not even the extremely talented cast can do much of anything with the material that they have been given to work with here. As the straight man, Brolin is strong and silent but there is never any time when we believe him as the conflicted family man who is still fighting the war years after returning home from the front. Ryan Gosling is even less believable as another former soldier who has turned into a cynical-yet-hunky cop who knows all the angles--as gifted as an actor as we known him to be, he comes across here as a high-school kid playing dress-up more than anything else. Emma Stone looks great but she cannot make any sense out of her character's behavior, which is so inexplicable that it feels as if half of her scenes were chopped out of the final cut at the last second, and she strikes zero sparks with Gosling--odd since the two played so well off of each other in "Crazy Stupid Love."

For the most part, the supporting cast get one note each to play and are reduced to hammering it without variation throughout. Then there is Sean Penn. . .holy crap, then there is Sean Penn. Say what you will about Penn, he is an actor who does not deal in half-measures when it comes to his performances--whether it is a good or bad performance, he commits 100% to what he is doing. His turn as Mickey Cohen is the kind of spectacular misfire that only a really talented actor could possibly turn in--a lesser performer would never have dared to offer up such eye-bulging, scenery-chewing, tic-laden weirdness--and while it will no doubt go down as one of the worst performances of his entire career, the sheer miscalculation of what he has done provides the film with its only compelling element in the sense that you can't wait to see what fresh lunacy he has to offer in each scene. Alas, not even his strenuous hamminess can save "Gangster Squad" from total uselessness and considering all the talent involved, that is a bigger crime than anything depicted on the screen.

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originally posted: 01/11/13 13:04:06
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User Comments

8/08/13 Matthew Thompson Dalldorf Today's 'The Untouchables'! 4 stars
3/07/13 Kurt I walked out- total crap! A waste of Emma Stone. 1 stars
1/13/13 Alex Mess - Dir couldnt decide if this was over the top comicbook or film noir genre 2 stars
1/13/13 action movie fan good production but story needs more 3 stars
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  11-Jan-2013 (R)
  DVD: 23-Apr-2013



Directed by
  Ruben Fleischer

Written by
  Will Beall

  Ryan Gosling
  Emma Stone
  Mireille Enos
  Sean Penn
  Anthony Mackie
  Josh Brolin
  Nick Nolte

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