Straight up…this movie is NOT good. THAT just had to be put out there, right off the Starting Line. So, it was an aimless Friday Night and my better half n Yours Truly were searching for SOMETHING to feast our weary eyes upon (it’d been a LONG work week). Having noticed that THIS title had recently popped up on NetFlix, my girlfriend threw it out there as a possibility…mainly because she has a substantial crush on a certain Mr. Ryan Gosling. Based on what I remembered hearing about this one on its initial release, I rather insensitively brushed her suggestion aside. Moments later, I came to the realization that, more often than not, my choices very often end up dominating our nocturnal viewings and, in The Spirit of Fairness, I should relent and give her suggestion a shot. I mean sure, the critics weren’t terribly kind to this flick and I was aware of the drama that arose Behind The Scenes after that sick fuck James Eagan Holmes murdered 12 people at a ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ screening in Colorado, forcing the ‘Gangster Squad’ crew to reshoot an entire climactic gunfight sequence that originally took place in a movie theatre. But beyond that, I didn’t pay too much attention to this one. Now, I love me a good ‘period’ cops n gangsters (NOT gangstas!) movie, so I thought “Aw hell…why not?”. So we fired it up.
Taking place in late 1940s Los Angeles, the flick follows WW2 veteran ‘Sgt. John O’Mara’ (Josh Brolin) of the LAPD after he’s approached by his Captain (a really unhealthy-looking Nick Nolte) to fire up an ‘unauthorized’ guerrilla war against real-life crime kingpin ‘Mickey Cohen’ (Sean Penn). Naturally, ‘O’Mara’ goes through the stereotypical actions of putting together his ‘gangster squad’, cobbled together using various lovable misfits played by the likes of Robert Patrick (‘T2’), Giovanni Ribisi (‘Saving Private Ryan’), Ryan Gosling (‘Drive’), Anthony Mackie (‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’) and Michael Pena’ (‘Fury’). Along the violent way, we also get to watch the emergence of a totally unconvincing romance between Gosling’s ‘Sgt. Jerry Wooters’ and Emma Stone’s moll character ‘Grace Farraday’, as the shit goes down.
‘Unconvincing’ is a good term to use, in describing this flick. I really enjoyed director Ruben Fleischers comedic horror flick ‘Zombieland’ (2009), so I was cautiously optimistic that this one may turn out to be a ‘sleeper’, but nope…instead I was (mis)treated to an over-cooked production that looked slick, but lacked ANY narrative cohesion. I have no idea how the original script compares to what was shat on-screen, but the pacing and ‘connective tissue’ of the story simply isn’t there. There’s no real ‘beat’ and it all plays out rather choppily. Numerous times, my girlfriend and I caught ourselves wondering (out loud) just what the hell was going on with this story and the characters.
And The Characters! Holy shit…I understand stylizing a movie, and many times it really adds to the overall presentation, but here, EVERYTHING is so bloated and over-done that it ends up resembling ‘Dick Tracy’-Lite. Especially where Sean Penn is concerned. I think that Penn is a very good, committed actor, but here…he is gawd-awful! I choose to blame the direction he was fed for his stupid, WAY over-the-top take on this character. His portrayal of ‘Cohen’ is hilarious in it’s distinct lack of subtlety (like everything else in this P.o.S.). He snarls, growls and yells every other line from beneath a whole bunch of distracting make-up, while they have every action he performs ‘in scene’ be simply despicable and cuh-raazy!. Hell, when we first meet him, he has a man gorily pulled in half by two cars in the shadows of the famed Hollywoodland sign, just so you know what a Bad Guy he is. His eventual (completely fictitious) comeuppance in the 3rd Act is hilarious in how blatantly it steals from the end fight of ‘Lethal Weapon’ (1987), where Gary Busey and Mel Gibson duke it out in the rain of a shattered fire hydrant in front of ‘Murtaughs’ house. Basically the same shit here.
This truly is a case of ‘Style’ fully trumping ‘Substance’. ‘Gangster Squad’ VERY much reminded me of Frank Darabont’s recently aborted attempt at a film-noir ‘cop n gangster’ series ‘Mob City’ (2013) in that, like that one, this movie is brimming with SO much ‘style’ that I was totally unconvinced of what it was trying to show me as a story. It felt like everyone was on-set playing ‘Make Believe / Dress Up’ with a shitload of gangster movie props and sets. Not once did I feel that I was tagging along with these supposedly bad-ass cops in 1949 LA as they pursued this vicious cartoon of a villain.
Regarding the change of location for one of the climactic gun-fights (as I mentioned earlier), I do give them credit as the change to a Chinatown street from a movie theatre seemed to flow (haha!) with the ‘story’ (haha!…again) much better. Too bad the actual gun battle was pretty stupid and lame.
There’s a lot more that I can probably bitch about, but I’m getting tired of this shitty movie taking up much more of my time.
All in all, ‘Gangster Squad’ is a bloated excuse in ‘Style Over Substance’ that plays out like really expensive ‘Amateur Hour’. The performances, from a slew of very commendable actors, are almost all humiliatingly painful and unconvincing, the story is choppy and inconsistent, the action is moronic, everything has a phony veneer to it and many, MANY sequences don’t connect or are just plain boring. If you need some good movies of this kind, be sure to check out ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (1984), ‘The Untouchables’ (1987), ‘Miller’s Crossing’ (1990) or even ‘Mulholland Falls’ (1996). And certainly make sure you squeeze in a viewing of ‘L.A. Confidential’ (1997), as that’s a clear-cut example of one of these ‘period’ crime flicks done correctly. ‘Gangster Squad’…just plain avoid. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved.
* if you MUST watch this one, be sure to take a healthy swig of something alcoholic every time the movie reminds you that Josh Brolin’s character is a war veteran. You’ll be sloshed in no time.
** I think NIck Nolte is losing a fight with his body, as it looks like his shoulders have devoured his neck and are going to work on his head…which now appears totally immobile. Just saying.