Gangster Squad Review: 2013’s First Real Dud

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Featuring a promising story and an all-star cast, Gangster Squad is the first real disappointment of the new year.

Coming off of the surprise hit Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer tackles the infamously corrupt years of the old Hollywood with a campy shoot ’em up that doesn’t live up to its full potential.

In a world where World War II veterans become cops to “keep fighting the war”, Los Angeles is run by gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). The villain is forcing the hand of too many people in the community for anyone to take him down legally. Enter Josh O’Mara (Josh Brolin), and officer hired off the books to create a team, or squad if you will, made up of misfits to take down the gangster once and for all.

What could have been an inspiring story of men taking back their town or an Ocean’s Eleven type caper is a muddled and confused mess.

With a script filled with laughable dialogue , at least the cast appears to be having a good time. Even if it seems like Josh Brolin may be reading his lines from a teleprompter.

Luckily, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have a bit more charisma. Gosling winks and nods at the camera while Stone elegantly overpowers all of her male co-stars to insert a sense of playfulness to their roles.

Sean Penn attempts to do the same thing, yet falls on his overly contorted face. Where it’s fun to see Gosling let loose, Penn tries too hard to have fun by being over the top. And I bet he is having a good time. I just don’t have any desire to go to any parties hosted by him anytime soon.

Yet Gangster Squad is stylish and contains some impressive set pieces, even if they feel out of place in the story. However, the age old movie critic slogan for these types of films “style over substance” rings true.

Where Zombieland served in part as a parody, by the end you found yourself rooting for the characters. In Gangster Squad, one of the members of the titular group asks their leader what makes them different from Mickey Cohen. An interesting question we never get the answer to. I’m not saying Gangster Squad should have been a deep exploration of right and wrong, but after raising such a point, we never find a reason to root for these machine gun toting vigilantes again.

Here is a film that under a different writer and with some different cast members could have been all the fun of an Ocean’s Eleven or a Zombieland. But it also had a chance to mean something while doing it, and that is the biggest crime of all. Grade: D

By Matt Dougherty



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