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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 18, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 3
Macho Gangster Squad sports an ill-fitting fedora
Arts & Entertainment
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Macho Gangster Squad sports an ill-fitting fedora

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

GANGSTER SQUAD
Opens January 11


Director Ruben Fleischer's post-World War II Los Angeles-set old-school macho actioner Gangster Squad was supposed to come out last September, but after events in Aurora, Colorado, rocked the national consciousness, Warner Bros., along with the filmmaker, came to the conclusion that releasing the film as-is wouldn't be in good taste. Why? The fiery, machine-gun-filled finale was partially set inside a crowded movie theater, and considering what had just taken place, the collective unease about how audiences would react was certainly understandable.

So, the last quarter of Gangster Squad was extensively reshot and the release date pushed to this week. It's now time for the movie to speak for itself, and let its star-studded merits speak for themselves, and the fact that it fails to do so on just about every level makes me wonder what all the fuss was about. They could have reshot the entire movie, start to finish, every aspect, and Fleischer's opus would still be nothing more than a glossy, sloppily written, and unevenly directed The Untouchables wannabe, and while pleasing aspects do arise, there just aren't enough of them to make sitting through this disaster worthwhile.

TACKLING A CRIME BOSS
The plot, loosely based on fact, follows LAPD Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) as he sets out to bring down rising crime lord Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Tasked by Chief of Police Parker (Nick Nolte) to use any means necessary to fight this new kind of guerrilla war, O'Mara brings together a group of law enforcement outsiders to fill out his squad, using tactics honed during the war to make Cohen's life a living hell and stop him from taking over the city.

There are some nice touches, and allowing Penn so much freedom to do what he wants with Cohen was, while obvious, as great a decision as any Fleischer made while trying to bring Will Beall's (a 'Castle' staff writer) script, itself based on the book by Paul Lieberman, to life. But the whole thing is weighted down in faux machismo, the enterprise feeling like an unsubtle fedora-wearing throwback that wants to walk in the same shoes as James Cagney, George Raft, or Paul Muni but doesn't have the faintest idea how to do so. It's all uneasy boastfulness and flippant cigarette-smoking, the majority of the cast going through the motions as if they were auditioning for some low-budget, overly theatrical high school play rather than making a big-budget Hollywood tentpole.

Which is a shame if you consider just how awesome the cast is. Ryan Gosling, Robert Patrick (who steals every scene he's at the center of), Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michael Peña round out the squad. Emma Stone is the femme fatale who draws Gosling attentions, 'The Killing' showstopper Mireille Enos is Brolin's sweetly understanding (and very pregnant) wife, while Troy Garity pops up as Penn's most menacing shoot-first-don't-ask-questions-at-all bit of muscle. Plenty of others also make fleeting appearances, keeping track of the familiar faces something of a mildly amusing game in and of itself.

ONE-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS
But across the board, by and large, every single one of them is wasted in one way or another. Gosling and Stone try to get by on their Crazy, Stupid, Love chemistry but the magic is mostly gone, only a couple moments ringing with anything close to the same kind of intoxicating chemistry. Brolin is all swagger, forgetting to bring the same sort of wounded intensity that allowed for Kevin Costner to come alive and become something memorable in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, while the rest of the squad (save, as I've already stated, Patrick), are stranded with cardboard cutouts to portray instead of anything that resembles a living, breathing enforcer of law and order.

Comparisons to De Palma's 1987 film are unavoidable, so many of the beats and ideas presented in Beall's script uneasily reminiscent of that Academy Award-winning classic. Fleischer doesn't do anything to hide this, and I can't be the only one wondering if Zombieland was a fluke and that it's more unmemorable throwaways like this and 30 Minutes or Less that we can expect from him in the future. Poorly paced, lazily edited, reviling in cliché, and shot to look as shiny as a newfound penny, Gangster Squad is 2013's first disaster, and instead of waiting four months to throw it into multiplexes, Warner would have done better leaving it on the shelf unreleased.

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