Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling. Written by Will Beall. Directed by Ruben Fleischer. 14A. 113 min.
Originally slated for release in September, this period crime drama by Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer was yanked from the schedule after The Dark Knight Rises shootings in Colorado. Some hasty surgery was then required to replace a scene that featured a massacre in a movie theatre. It was presumably too late to do anything about the bullets flying across the rest of Gangster Squad, many of them fired from old-timey tommy guns that inexplicably boast the firepower of contemporary AK-47s. Then again, no amount of overhauls could have fixed the more substantial problems with Fleischer’s sharply dressed but wafer-thin attempt at a modernized film noir.
Josh Brolin is all chin as John O’Mara, a principled and bull-headed L.A. detective who’s enlisted by his chief (Nick Nolte) to form a secret squad to rid the city of the nefarious influence of mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Among O’Mara’s fellow lawmen now working outside the law is Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), a squeaky-voiced smoothie who’s got a thing going on with Cohen’s dame, a red-haired looker named Grace (Emma Stone). As the squad’s activities cause more headaches for Cohen, its members become more vulnerable to his brand of retribution.
Brolin, Gosling, and Stone all bring some flair to characters that barely seem substantial enough to support the weight of their fedoras. Other fatal miscues include the overabundance of sub-Mickey-Spillane one-liners in Will Beall’s script and Fleischer’s decision to largely forego the retro-noir style of classier forebears like The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential in favour of the phony pulp and more cartoonish ultra-violence of Sin City. Following his director down the slope, Penn may think he’s doing Robert De Niro’s Al Capone but with his grotesque facial makeup and relentless scenery chewing, he ends up with a far less lovable variation on Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy.
What with all the problems Gangster Squad had on the way to the marketplace and the many that still remain, it’s hard not to feel like the film’s few displays of panache only serve to put a greasy shine on a strictly two-bit operation.