Saturday, January 12, 2013
[REVIEW] "Gangster Squad": That Frilly Hoodlum Film You Always Wanted
There's a point while you're watching GANGSTER SQUAD when you can literally shut your eyes (and even doze off) for a few moments, and still be able to not only know what happened but also the dialogue that ensued. It's like when you take a break from watching your favorite soap opera for a few months, and come back to it and it's the same exact dinner party scene at which you left off.
To be clear, GANGSTER SQUAD isn't necessarily a terrible movie, per se. It's more like a mash-up of several good noir movies you've seen in the past, now with a candy-coated glaze. It's a lazy, watered down gangster flick that is not nearly as clever or as new as it attempts to be.
The Ruben Fleischer-directed film, based on a true story, is set in 1949 and follows the heavyweight gangster Mickey Cohen on his quest to "take over Los Angeles" by essentially riddling it with bullets and blood splatter, and Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) as his good guy nemesis and law enforcer. Together the two men attempt to take back the City of Angels with their posses--John teams with a clean-cut tribe of cops that look as intimidating as Yosemite Sam, and Mickey's crew is more like a bunch of suited-up loons recently out of prison.
And Penn, donning a prosthetic nose to supposedly mimic the real character, is like the stereotypical bad guy lifted right out of a cartoon. His last 15 minutes of the movie are some of the its worst scenes, heightened by an all out laughable face-off at the end with Brolin's character.
The protagonists--or "The Gangster Squad," as they call themselves--are made up of O'Mara, Giovanni Ribisi as nerd cop Keeler, Ryan Gosling as the pretty-voiced Wooters, Robert Patrick as Kennard, Anthony Mackie as Harris and Michael Peña as Ramirez. But despite the massive array of talent there, only two of them have any real storylines that don't simply involve one-upping each other--Gosling and Brolin. And neither is all that interesting. O'Mara is that quintessential good guy with a chip on his shoulder who's walking a thin line between his dangerous job on the streets and at home with his wife (Mireille Enos) and unborn child. And Wooters is just a pretty boy who knows how to use a gun, which is unfortunate for Gosling, who is far better than this role allows him to be. Lighting up cigarettes, rolling guns around in his hand, and bedding a claimed woman is really as menacing as he gets. The fact that he barely speaks above a whisper doesn't help either.
That brings us to his mistress Grace (Emma Stone), who is completely miscast as the vixen who comes between two men--one being a inconceivably violent villain. It's easy to say the role could have gone to someone as seductive as Christina Hendricks, but you probably want something better for Hendricks as well. Stone is visibly uncomfortable in the role and doesn't that ravishing appeal for which the role calls. In a sense, she's more nerd chic than glamour chic. She does the best she can, but overall it's just a sad sight to witness; another example of how the film just doesn't care to take itself more seriously.
GANGSTER SQUAD not only fails to make you care about any of the characters (except maybe briefly for Keeler), but it presents itself as more of a parody than anything else, which does the story--or lack thereof--a major disservice. The paint-by-numbers script, adapted by Will Beall (TV's "Castle"), does the film no favors, resulting in a flagrant attempt to fabricate a real-life story that merely rides on its own bestiality and cool vintage look than character development and creativity. In the end, it's just a bore.