Gangster Squad is an average straight-to-DVD action flick that happens to be set in the 1950’s and boast a cast of actors all of whom are slumming here. Adapted from Paul Lieberman’s book, the film centers around real events in Los Angeles when a select group of cops worked to take down gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) by any means necessary. And by “adapted” I mean any relation to the events covered in Lieberman’s book (such as who survives and how Cohen was eventually taken down) to screenwriter Will Beall‘s script are likely accidental.
I can only guess director Ruben Fleischer lured the likes of Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, and Robert Patrick to the project with the proposal of making something akin to The Untouchables (which this film desperately wants to be compared to). With poorly cast actors, dreadful dialogue, costumes and sets that feel more like costumes and sets than period locations and attire, Gangster Squad couldn’t be further from Brian De Palma‘s terrific film. It’s actually closer to something as completely forgettable as Takers.
Gangster Squad is a loud, obnoxious, stupid movie whose only chance was to understand what it was, cheese things up, and have some fun. For something this bad it’s a little surprising it somehow doesn’t star either Paul Walker or Kevin James. Sadly, the film doesn’t revel in it’s awfulness. Instead Felischer decides to play things straight which, other than in a handful of unconnected moments here and there, produces a joyless trainwreck that does the neither the audience nor his cast any favors.
Brolin stars as the one good cop left in Los Angeles who is tasked by the police commissioner (Nolte), who it seems is also the one good cop left in Los Angeles, to find five other good cops (you know, the only other ones left in Los Angeles) and put a special squad together to work outside the law to break Mickey Cohen’s hold on the city.
To fill out his team, Brolin recruits a reluctant friend (Gosling), a gun hand (Patrick), a nerd (Giovanni Ribisi), and a Black and Mexican (Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña, in roles which require nothing more of them than the color of their skin). Together the group gets off to an inauspicious start before eventually doing some serious damage to Cohen’s empire.
The script also throws in a love story involving Gosling and Emma Stone which never quite works. Although I’ve liked her in several of her recent performances, Stone is poorly cast in the role of a femme fatale. However, it’s not all her fault as the script doesn’t have any idea what to do with a character who is dating both Los Angeles crime lord and one of the cops tasked to take him down. Mireille Enos doesn’t have it much better as the spunky wife to Brolin’s character whose support of her husband is erratic at best depending on what a specific scene may call for.
In terms of action, the film delivers a slow motion climax shoot-out between the cops and Cohen’s men in which we see every shell casing hit the ground (who knew Fleischer was such a fan of The Matrix?) and an even more ridiculous, not to mention anticlimactic, impromptu street fight between our hero and villain. Sigh.
The only positive thing I can say about Gangster Squad is it isn’t bad enough to do any serious harm to anyone’s career. It should quickly come and go from theaters and soon be forgotten. More depressing is the fact that the film trumpets in the official beginning of the dreadful post-Oscar dumping ground where studios throw films that never lived up to their promise. In terms of this year’s cinematic disappointments, Gangster Squad is only the beginning.