**1/2 (out of 5)
January 11, 2013
Josh Brolin as JOHN O’MARA
Ryan Gosling as JERRY WOOTERS
Nick Nolte as CHIEF PARKER
Emma Stone as GRACE FARADAY
Sean Penn as MICKEY COHEN
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
BY KEVIN CARR
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“Gangster Squad” isn’t just a period piece in terms of story, characters and production design. It also is a period piece in terms of tone. While it has all the elements of a snazzy 40s-era film, it doesn’t exactly feel like it was made today.
Instead, it has a real 90s feel to it. That’s not to say the setting of Los Angeles in 1949 didn’t feel authentic. Rather, it was the delivery of the characters and the script behind it that made “Gangster Squad” feel like it was a child of the 90s, fitting in line with the tone of “The Phantom,” “Dick Tracy” and even “The Rocketeer.”
I still don’t know if that wins the movie points or counts against it.
“Gangster Squad” is coming off a certain level of bad juju, though. Its first trailer dropped this summer ahead of “The Dark Knight Rises” and featured a scene of gangsters shooting people in a movie theater. After the attack in Aurora, Colorado, Warner Bros. pulled the trailer and re-shot that scene (which, after watching that original trailer again, was probably a good choice). The movie was also bumped into its January release date.
Some people questioned whether this date switch would hurt the film’s box office, but in terms of movie releases, swapping an early September release for an early January release is a wash. So this movie was never slated for big things.
The story follows a hard-nosed detective named John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) who is tapped by the Chief of Police (Nick Nolte) to head up an elite – but off-the-books – squad of cops to take down crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). They start hitting Cohen at his small-times operations, but soon work up the ladder to his business plan that will put him in charge of all betting west of Chicago. Of course, Cohen sets his sights on the cops when he discovers what’s going on.
There are times when “Gangster Squad” tries to be a gritty, violent cop drama, along the lines of “The Untouchables.” However, it rarely hits this mark as well as it should. It is hampered by the fact that it rips off other films in the process, including “Lethal Weapon” and even “Barbershop.”
The movie gets some points with casting, since the actors are pretty good at what they do. However, some of them fall short. Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling (even with his silly voice he has in the film) hold their own, but Sean Penn chews through the scenery of almost every scene with almost no restraint. Nick Nolte stumbles into his scenes and sounds like an evil Muppet whenever he speaks.
The supporting cast is even worse. Giovanni Ribisi plays a retread of his character from “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” and Anthony Mackie plays the most embarrassingly cliche token black character you’re likely to see this year. Rounding out the cast is Robert Patrick basically as a cowboy with a Mexican sidekick (played by Michael Pena). This cliche within a cliche threatens to give the movie a stroke.
The dialogue is excessively corny, reminding me of films like “Alex Cross” and “Jack Reacher,” which probably played better on the book’s page. “Gangster Squad” tries to be hard-boiled, but it spins around and tries to be a light-hearted comedy as well. It grits things up with an R-rating and scenes that are laughably too serious, presenting others that are possibly too violent than it needs to be for the fun times audience it’s chasing.
There is a certain level of shoot-‘em-up entertainment value to the movie, but overall, it’s a pretty forgettable ride.