Macho Gangster Squad Sports an Ill-Fitting Fedora
Director Ruben Fleischerís post-WWII Los Angeles-set old school macho actioner Gangster Squad was supposed to come out last September, but after events in Aurora, CO rocked the national consciousness Warner Bros, along with the filmmaker, came to the conclusion releasing their film as-is wouldnít be in good taste. Why? The fiery, machine gun filled finale was partially set inside a crowded movie theatre, and considering what had just taken place the collective unease about how audiences would react post-Aurora was certainly understandable.
Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin in Gangster Squad © Warner Bros
Whether one agrees with the decision or not, the last quarter of Gangster Squad was extensively reshot and the release date pushed to this second Friday in 2013. Itís now time for the movie to speak for itself and let its star-studded merits speak for themselves, and to say it fails to do so on just about any level whatsoever makes me wonder why all the fuss for such a mangy, disheveled dog was levied in the first place. I get the feeling they could have reshot the entire movie, start to finish, every aspect, and Fleischerís opus would still be nothing more than a glossy, sloppily written and unevenly directed The Untouchables wannabe, and while pleasing aspects do arise there just arenít anywhere enough of them to make sitting through this disaster worthwhile.
The plot, loosely based on fact, follows LAPD Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) as he sets out to bring down rising crime lord Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Tasked by Chief of Police Parker (Nick Nolte) to use any means necessary to fight this new kind of guerilla war, OíMara brings together a group of law enforcement outsiders to fill out his squad, using tactics honed during WWII to make Cohenís life a living hell and stop him from making his criminal empire an unstoppable machine ripe to take over the city for good.
There are some nice touches, and allowing Penn so much freedom to do what he wants with Cohen was, while obvious, as great a decision as any Fleischer made while trying to bring Will Beallís (a ďCastleĒ staff writer) script, itself based on the book by Paul Lieberman, to life. But the whole thing is weighted down in faux machismo, the enterprise feeling like an unsubtle fedora-wearing throwback that wants to walk in the same shoes as James Cagney, George Raft or Paul Muni but doesnít have the faintest idea how to do so. Itís all uneasy boastfulness and flippant cigarette smoking, the majority of the cast going through the motions as if they were auditioning for some low budget overly theatrical High School play than they are a major, big budget Hollywood tentpole.
Which is a shame if you consider just how awesome the cast is. Ryan Gosling, Robert Patrick (who steals every scene heís at the center of), Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael PeŮa round out the squad, Emma Stone is the femme fatale who draws Gosling attentions, ďThe KillingĒ showstopper Mireille Enos is Brolinís sweetly understanding (and very pregnant) wife, while Troy Garity pops up as Pennís most menacing shoot first-donít ask questions at all bit of muscle. Plenty of others also make fleeting appearances, keeping track of the familiar faces something of a mildly amusing game in and of itself.
But across the board, by and large, every single one of them is wasted in one way or another. Gosling and Stone try to get by on their Crazy, Stupid, Love. chemistry but the magic is mostly gone, only a couple moments ringing with anything close to the same kind of intoxicating chemistry. Brolin is all swagger, forgetting to bring the same sort of wounded intensity that allowed for Kevin Costner to come alive and become something memorable in Brian De Palmaís The Untouchables, while the rest of the squad (save, as Iíve already stated, Patrick), are stranded with cardboard cutouts to portray instead of anything that resembles a living, breathing enforcer of law and order.
Sean Penn chews the scenery in Gangster Squad © Warner Bros
Comparisons to De Palmaís 1987 film are unavoidable, so many of the beats and ideas presented in Beallís script uneasily reminiscent of that Academy Award-winning classic. Fleischer doesnít do anything to hide this, and I canít be the only wondering if Zombieland was a fluke and that itís more unmemorable throwaways like this and 30 Minutes or Less that we can expect from him in the future. Poorly paced, lazily edited, reviling in clichť and shot to look as shiny as a newfound penny, Gangster Squad is 2013ís first disaster, and instead of waiting four months to throw it into multiplexes Warner Bros would have been better served to have left it on the shelf unreleased.
- Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: Í1/2 (out of 4)