‘Gangster Squad’ a Good Time if You Don’t Mind Reruns

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Gangster Squad, except perhaps its timing, but there’s nothing particularly right either.

A violence-wallowing tale of a semi-legal platoon of cops who take on post Los Angeles’ most notorious gangster in the hopeful years just after the second world war, the movie is fun and stylish, but feels very familiar.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is tired of slogging away in middle management of the mob. Sure, he gets to pull guys apart by chaining them to opposing hot rods, but the thrill is gone. He needs more. Specifically, he needs Los Angeles as his own personal mobboy playground.

Sargent John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), whom everyone calls Sarge on account of his honorable war record, is one of the few remaining honest police on the force. He takes it personal, see, when the Mickey Cohens of the world force fresh faced star hopefuls into prostitution or run heroin in the shantytowns. He’s a maverick, bet you didn’t see that coming, who doesn’t play by the rules.

His – wait for it – pregnant wife (Mireille Enos) knows he’s a hero deep down, but gosh, would really love for him to stop taking on entire apartment buildings of bad guys single handedly.

But when the police chief asks Sarge to put together a secret squad to harass and pester Mickey Cohen out of town, Sarge jumps right on board. He gathers his team. The sharpshooter (Robert Patrick), the straight-arrow but disregarded black officer (Anthony Mackie), the excellent but oppressed Hispanic (Michael Pena) and the earnest family man (Giovanni Ribisi).

Just for kicks, the disaffected cynic cop with a buried heart of gold (Ryan Gosling) jumps aboard at the last minute. He’s engaged in a risky but passionate relationship with Mickey Cohen’s current mob doll (Emma Stone, channeling Jessica Rabbit).

Waddya know? They’re all mavericks, every gosh darn one of em.

You can figure out what happens from here. No, really. You can figure it out. You know exactly which character will die a heroic or ignoble death and which will not. There’s not any mystery.

The film famously was due to be released in the summer, but the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, CO changed that. The movie had a movie theater shooting scene. It was pulled and edited and released now, only to find a similar atmosphere after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. The timing fiasco is most apparent in the big, finale shootout scene which happens in a lobby decorated to the hilt with Christmas paraphernalia  As trees, ornaments, and fake snow poof and explode in slow motion, the audience can’t help but think of all their Christmas gear, now thankfully packed away in the attics. The effect is jarring.

But what there is, there is in spades. First of all, the cast is fantastic. Every one is top notch and they do what they can with the material. Sean Penn doesn’t have much to work with beyond homicidal megalomaniac, but he gives it his all. Likewise, Ryan Gosling seems to have fun with his role, adopting a high-pitched Bugsy accent and mannerism that at least tries to add another dimension to his cavalier lover character. Emma Stone, of course, is universally adorable. Though her character may be channeling Jessica Rabbit, she practically out-Jessica-Rabbits Jessica Rabbit.

The movie makes the most of its R rating as well, amping up the violence, mostly in the form of fisticuffs with blood splattering and bones crunching. There is implied sexual activity, but no nudity or sex scenes themselves, although both are flirted with in an after-lovemaking scene. Language, as you might imagine, is quite R-rated as well.

It all adds up to a movie that is moderately fun to watch, a fine date night flick if your date doesn’t mind a blood squirt here or there. But it’s a film that feels like a rehash of earlier, better films. Take your pick. L.A. Confidential comes to mind. Mullholland Falls. The list goes on from there.

For January, which is a notorious dumping ground for movies that somehow failed to gel in the moviemaking kitchen, it’s not bad. Judged on a bigger scale, however, it’s not good.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey


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