Gangster Squad | Movie review
The director of Zombieland delivers a star-studded L.A. crime saga.
As its first trailer made unfortunately clear, Gangster Squad once contained a scene in which henchmen opened fire on a crowded movie house. That untimely set piece is gone—along with the film’s original September release date—though you’ll find plenty of gunplay elsewhere in Ruben Fleischer’s slick, ’40s-set crime saga. Thick with flavorful tough-guy dialogue, this West Coast Untouchables follows a fearless L.A. cop (Josh Brolin, square in temperament and jaw) and his ragtag team of unofficial mob busters. Their mission: to wage off-the-books war on crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, wildly overacting), a former Brooklyn prizefighter who’s seized control of the city through sheer viciousness. How sadistic is the kingpin? In the opening scene, he dispatches a rival through the automotive answer to drawing and quartering.
There’s more stylized carnage where that came from, all staged with the wink and swagger you might expect from the director of Zombieland. Fleischer’s ripped-from-history source material is a series of nonfiction articles by journalist Paul Lieberman. In different hands, these true-crime anecdotes might have been shaped into an Ellroy-esque epic or—given the surveillance techniques of Giovanni Ribisi’s team egghead—a midcentury The Wire. Gangster Squad aims lower; it’s a shallow, star-studded amalgam of every Los Angeles cops-and-crooks drama you’ve ever seen. For a few cheap laughs, look to Ryan Gosling, slipping into “hey girl” autopilot to play a lady-killing detective who cozies up to Cohen’s moll (Emma Stone, a previous Gosling conquest in Crazy, Stupid, Love). The movie could have used more of his cucumber cool, less cartoon-noir bluster.