Oh, the movie that Gangster Squad could have been. A violent true story of the pulp heroes who cleaned up Los Angeles and swept out the organized crime rackets of Mickey Cohen, GS constantly threatens to go over-the-top but winds up being frustratingly inconsistent as the director pulls back the reigns to a dull, if stylish, reality.
Josh Brolin stars as Sgt. John O’Mara and honest-to-a-fault cop who is hamstrung by a corrupt system controlled by the villainous Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). O’Mara is tasked by the chief (Nick Nolte who may not be aware he’s in a movie) to put together a covert squad that will fight fire with fire and do things the law doesn’t allow.
The superteam is composed a sharpshooter (Robert Duvall), his tagalong (Michael Pena), a knife-man with underworld connections (Anthony Mackie), and a mechanical master with a family (so you know he’s the first to die (Giovanni Ribisi)). They stumble along until joined by the suave, soft-spoken vet (Ryan Gosling) who is having a fling with the villain’s special lady friend (Emma Stone) and then barrel forward without so much as a second glance to reality.
Only Gosling and Penn seem to have a grip on how ludicrous this is supposed to be and, perhaps understandably, they have the best over-the-top one-liners and back-and-forth dialogue. And there are some good zingers in the script, each one giving hope that the movie will rise to their level. It never does. Each time the movie approaches a cliff of awesomeness it is yanked back into a predictable reality. What should be Dick Tracy meets The Untouchables is entirely too scattered and uneven despite its flashes of brilliance.
I’m usually more interested in character than plot so am the last one to acknowledge plot holes. And yet I wondered several times how we got from point A to B, not a good sign for this movie and director Ruben Fleischer. While I understand the movie went through radical revisions after the Colorado movie theater shooting, it shouldn’t have been given the green light in its current form. Plenty of great talent is involved and there is potential but this action noir falls far short of coherent success.
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