World War II is over and a number of its veterans are strewn across the city of Los Angeles. One such military man is John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a sergeant for the police with a ripe streak of violence and stern sense of justice. After a bloody arrest of several criminals, O’Mara becomes jaded about his community when said baddies are set free due to their connection to local mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). O’Mara isn’t sure what do, but soon finds a beacon of hope via a secretly founded task force with one goal in mind; take down Cohen’s regime by any means necessary.
The plot, loosely inspired by true events (aka not true), is a fine enough piece of potboiler nastiness for the film Gangster Sqaud to lean upon for its structure. It’s generic for sure, yet shows potential. The same can’t be said for the final product by director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and screenwriter Will Beall (“Castle”). Gangster Squad isn’t an ode to classic crime pictures. It’s a dundering, thinly drawn collection of clichés, non-characters and embarrassing action scenes.
Characters can be barely called as such. Brolin’s O’Mara has the thickest lines, which consists of having a wife, baby on the way and the hint of war trauma. He’s surrounded by Anthony Mackie (good with a knife!), Robert Patrick (good with a gun!) and Michael Pena (Mexican!). Ryan Gosling appears, usually a sign of something interesting; he has nothing to do. He’s friendly to teenage shoe-shiner and has the hots for Mickey Cohen’s latest lady Grace (Emma Stone with nothing to do but speak in her smoky voice, show her left leg and cry). There are glimmers of something more in Gosling performance, but that stems largely from his innate talent. While tragic circumstances occur in his life and one is caught up by Gosling’s turmoil, what it leads to is arbitrary and cheap in execution.
Then there is Sean Penn, giving a performance so ham-based that I’m not sure People of the Book might not be allowed to consume it. His dialogue is unfolded as if in slow-motion, ma-ki-ng su-re to pro-nunc-i-ate ev-e-ry par-t of the wor-d. A colleague stated the performance was more apt for Dick Tracy.
The new L.A. Confidential this is not as Fleischer and company gleefully portray bullets hovering in mid-air and blood splattering in a cartoonish manner that undercuts its serious stabs. Few filmmakers can mix the absurd with the serious. This is doubly true when it comes to violence. Fleischer has no control of his tone. Its effort to sprinkle in dark humor is childish; decisively more playground than The Untouchables. Instead of bringing anything new to the gangster movie party, the movie runs down a checklist without innovation. Home of hero shot to pieces? Done. Trip to Chinatown? It’s there. Dames to save? Why not. Gangster Squad isn’t a breathless crime pic or a gritty reimagining. It’s a big waste of talented actors though.
Gangster Squad opens wide all across Seattle tomorrow.