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Zimbio Review - 'Gangster Squad' is Seriously Weak

(Warner Brothers)
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?

It's been done many times before and many times better. Gangster Squad is a huge waste of a great cast.
Gangster Squad could've gone wildly violent and played up it's ludicrous plot and ridiculous dialogue. It could've dug deeper, cut out the endless shootouts and explored the actual characters in the story since, you know, they hired some pretty good actors for this film. Instead Gangster Squad does neither, it does the bare minimum. Talent is wasted, bullets are wasted, time is wasted.

Here's the entire plot: Mickey Cohen rules crime in Los Angeles in 1944 so some sergeant forms a secret group of ragtag cops to take him down. That's literally all that's at stake. The movie is a series of street shootouts and car chases and running and shooting.

How did Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, and Josh Brolin all end up here? Penn is cloaked in shadow as Cohen, the boxer turned gangster, and given lines like, "I am God, so you might as well swear to me." He's supposed to be thoroughly menacing because he screams bloody murder the entire film, but the act doesn't work. The character is never developed so there's nothing to believe in. Penn just shows up and snarls.

Brolin and Gosling play the two leaders of the Gangster Squad, recruited by Sergeant Nick Nolte (who, BTW, has completed the transformation into Laurence Tierney/The Thing well-ahead of schedule). Brolin has a worried wife (Mireille Enos) at home, but he's "duty-bound" and must take down Cohen so she helps him recruit the team. He has nothing invested in stopping him aside from the moral high ground. 

That includes Gosling, who's the fast-talking womanizer of the group. He romances Mickey's dame, Grace (Emma Stone), and seduces her in-between playing with his Zippo and staring sexily from underneath his fedora. Gosling also has a soft-spot for the local shoe shine boy, a contrived plot device designed to create violence when the kid is, inevitably, killed by mobsters and Gosling must seek revenge (I would've issued a spoiler alert, but really... who cares?)

The movie best moment and only real one is an exchange between Gosling and Enos in a kitchen. They verbally joust and seem to really enjoy one another's company. The film needed about 15 more scenes like this to break up the monotony of watching cops riddle bad guys with bullets and vice versa. They even go full-on montage mode like something out of Dick Tracy, making Gangster Squad that much more of a cartoon.

The few scenes that do contain dialogue are so overcooked and flimsy, they belong in a B movie. I found myself wondering how quickly audiences would run from their seats if these awful lines weren't being said by the likes of Penn or Gosling. It's scary to consider. The movie is pure maple syrup.

The great cast does its best to salvage something from this brutal script with the exception of Stone, who's terribly miscast as the noir femme fatale minus the fatale part. She might be the least-likely candidate to play a vampy gun moll and that's why they call it acting, but the role is too much for Stone to overcome. She's given nothing to work with to begin and she doesn't do herself any favors by refusing to take any risks. She plays it straight and it's throughly boring.

Gangster Squad may find an audience amongst teenage boys who don't know any better, but it remains a gigantic waste of time for the rest of us. It's a shame to squander such a great cast on a redundant film, but it happens all the time in the gangster genre. Every actor wants to play the gangster and many do. Gangster Squad is just the latest to prove how hard it is to make a great gangster film.

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