(Ruben Fleischer, 2013)
Gangster Squad plays like somebody saw The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential and thought: I can do that.
Only they couldn't.
Instead what they made was a dumbed-down, simplified version of similar material. This is James Ellroy for the Playstation generation; what it takes from Ellroy and classic gangster pictures are the superficial things - the hats, the suits, the cars, the art deco architecture, the tommy guns. What it misses out is what makes Ellroy so good and so distinctive - the vicious characterisation, the sprawling narratives, the gaudy peppering of sex and violence, the intensity, the wit.
This is a film that manages to do everything it does badly. A massive climactic tommy gun battle is tedious and predictable. The romance between Ryan Gosling's charming detective and Emma Stone's moll is dull and somewhat perfunctory. Ganglord Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, channelling a villain from Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy) intimidating then having inept underlings murdered in creative ways is second-hand and cliched. The scene where Josh Brolin's heroic cop O'Meara rounds up his squad is laughably silly, as is his voiceover narration ("Evil can only thrive when good men do nothing") while his relationship with his pregnant wife is copied more or less verbatim from The Untouchables but lacks the sincerity and charm of the equivalent scenes in that film.
The story follows the establishment of an off-the-books squad of Los Angeles cops in 1949, brought together in order to wage covert war against the massively powerful and ruthless mobster Cohen.
In reality the story lurches along from one middling action scene to the next, doling out cardboard character beats in between. It all looks very slick and pretty; too much so. These cops are immaculately tailored, their cars gleaming, hair beautifully coiffed. Every twist and turn is telegraphed, and Fleischer mainly seems to be showcasing his own ability to handle a big property like this one perhaps in the hopes of landing a big studio blockbuster as his next movie.
The real shame of it is the immense waste of that cast, filled with great faces and huge talent as it is. Only Penn really registers. Brolin is boring, Gosling seems to be parodying himself, and nobody else has enough of a character to really play. Instead they just concentrate on looking good and advancing the plot, much like the film itself.