"Gangster Squad," a movie that will certainly be this week’s top box office draw, is as subtle as the movie’s main character.
Stylish, but ghastly and grisly in the worst kind of way, it hammers the audience over the head from the very beginning with its story of an off-the-books Los Angeles detective squad fighting to wipe out the scourge of organized crime in the City of Angels.
Directed by Ruben Fleisher, no one should mistake the word “stylish” for “substantive” because Gangster Squad, which opens Friday (Jan. 11) may have the look of late 1940s L.A. down from the city to the clothes, but unlike prior movies that operate in the same general time frame (see L.A. Confidential) it doesn’t possess much with respect to memorable characters or moments for that matter.
From the early moments when the audience sees East Coast mobster Mickey Cohen (an over-the-top Sean Penn) order the slaying of a member of a Chicago mob family, there’s little doubt this will not be an exercise in subtlety.
Cohen has the would-be adversary chained by the limbs to the rear bumpers of two cars and orders his henchmen to drive pulling the scream man apart at the torso. If Fleisher and screenwriter Will Beall were looking to grab someone’s attention, mission accomplished.
That sets the tone for the story as Cohen exerts his will all over Los Angeles through his betting parlors, slum-based brothels and heroin smuggling and dealing.
It’s a situation that World War II vet and police sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) can’t stomach. A renegade by LAPD standards because he’s a clean cop, he aggressively pursues Cohen and his lackeys in an attempt to dish out some form of justice, only to be thwarted and threated by the police brass when he does.
The chief of police (Nick Nolte) greets his frustration with an opportunity, allowing O’Mara to set up a clandestine squad to inflict destruction on Cohen’s financial empire. Of course a war erupts as Cohen attempts – without much success at first – to ferret out who exactly is causing his problems and eventually Gangster Squad follows a familiar path and formula.
To its credit, it does have a certain sense of humor that gets the audience through some of the grislier elements and there’s the overall look given to it by production designer Maher Ahmed and his art directors, but beyond that we have a script that wastes a boatload of acting talent that includes Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi among others.
Some might enjoy Gangster Squad, but far too many times it’s a movie that revels in its own violence and there are far too many plot holes to allow an audience to enjoy it completely.
Movie: Gangster Squad
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Nick Nolte.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rated: R (strong violence and language)
Running time: 113 minutes
George’s rating: 2.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com