If, after watching a movie trailer your first thought is, “Wow. That movie looked great,” then whoever cut that preview did their job well. When that movie finally comes out and you go and discover it was nothing but garbage, then that person did their job too well. There is no bigger disappointment for a moviegoer than to see a movie they have been anticipating for a while to turn out to be a bad movie. The first trailer that came out for “Gangster Squad” last summer, not only made it look like a good fall movie, but an early contender for Oscar glory. Unfortunately, it is more likely to qualify for some Razzies rather than be noticed by the Academy Awards.
“Gangster Squad” opens by letting the audience know that what they are about to see is based on true events. Mickey Cohen was a real-life boxer who became a gangster in the 1940s and 1950s. In this movie he is looking to take over all of Los Angeles. “Los Angeles is my destiny!” He shouts. He owns cops and judges and no one will ever testify against him. A special unit of cops is put together to destroy Mickey’s businesses and to drive him out of town.
The movie was written by Will Beall, who, before adapting “Gangster Squad” for the big screen, was a writer on the television show “Castle”. He must have really done his homework by watching several other gangster movies from “The Untouchables” to “Dick Tracy” (yes, the Warren Beatty movie) because Beall has taken plot elements from all those movies and put them into his script.
Everything that is stereotypical about a gangster movie is in “Gangster Squad” so if you are a fan of that genre of film, then this one will hold no surprises for you. You have your hardened, but honest cop who narrates parts of the movie, everyone is wearing hats and you even have gangsters who end their sentences with the word “See?” In fact, all the dialogue in this movie is uninspired.
The movie has more than its share of violence, but none of it feels organic. It feels like it was written in for no other purpose than to shock the audience. One scene that caught many viewers’ eyes with the first trailer was a shot of men shooting through a movie theater screen with machine guns. After the tragedy that occurred in Aurora, Colorado the movie trailer was pulled from theaters and the scene was removed and new scenes were shot. This is what also led to the delay of the movie’s release from the fall until January. Even if the scene had remained intact, it’s doubtful it would improve “Gangster Squad” very much.
The original trailer also seemed to indicate that Sean Penn, who plays Mickey Cohen, was a shoo-in for another Best Actor nomination. Penn does not deliver a bad performance, but this role will not be one he is long remembered for. He speaks with a gravelly tone, not too unlike the voice Christian Bale uses when he is playing Batman. Other than that, there is nothing outstanding about his character. The rest of the cast, that includes, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Nock Nolte, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi and Emma Stone are all adequate too, but their roles are either not challenging or we have seen them play similar characters before in other movies.
Ruben Fleischer directed “Gangster Squad”. His previous directing credits include “30 Minutes or Less” and “Zombieland”. This is certainly new territory for him, but even a director like Martin Scorsese cannot do too much with such a weak script. What’s surprising to learn is that Will Beall has been tapped by Warner Brothers to write the Justice League movie. Beall is no Joss Whedon and if “Gangster Squad” is any indication of things to come then Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are going to have a lot bigger problems than any super villain coming their way.
Typically January is known as a month that releases notoriously bad movies. “Gangster Squad” looked to be an exception; instead it just turned out to be the norm. It is rated R for strong violence and language and is now playing in theaters all over south Florida.