Director Ruben Fleischer's anticipated follow-up to ZOMBIELAND and 30 MINUTES OR LESS is visually engaging with plenty of style and panache, which is definitely appropriate to the gangster subject matter. It's backed up by great production design, costumes, cinematography—the works. If a sense of "cool" is what Fleischer was going for, he definitely achieved it.
And if that's all it took, GANGSTER SQUAD would be a great film. Unfortunately, everything that works about this movie is nearly wasted thanks to the script. Will Beall's screenplay is predictable at best, unbearably stupid at worst. In between is just a mash up of gangster movie clichés, stereotypes and reminders of better entries in the genre. Dialogue is clearly overwritten to match the overly stylized gloss of the film, and any attempts to be clever or subversive come off as comedic instead. (If this is Beall's best work, he's absolutely not the right guy for JUSTICE LEAGUE.)
Given how lifeless the material is, it's a wonder how GANGSTER SQUAD attracted such an impressive cast of likeable and talented actors. Josh Brolin sounds good doing hard-boiled narration, but his lead character is as bland and one-dimensional as they come, especially as he's the squad leader. (His pregnant wife, played by WORLD WAR Z's Mireille Enos, has more of a spark to her.) The rest of the team is made up of solid performers like Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick and Michael Pena, but they're such cookie cutter characters you can guess each of their fates as soon as they're introduced. Gosling has a slight edge to him that might remind you of The Driver, but the boring romance he shares with his CRAZY STUPID LOVE co-star Emma Stone sucks the life out of it. It's a shame because the pair has a fun chemistry together; it's just that her femme fatale is a complete non-entity. The only person who seems to be having any fun in this movie is an overacting Sean Penn as sadistic villain Mickey Cohen, but under heavy prosthetics and with a permanent sneer he's almost more of a cartoon than a character.
It should be noted that GANGSTER SQUAD's problems extend beyond the forced reshoots following last year's Colorado theater shooting. (The re-set Chinatown set piece is a fine adjustment.) It's harmless and easy to watch thanks to the actors, but if you're well-versed in gangster lore or have any expectations given Fleischer's previous work, you'll be disappointed. At first the silly elements are kind of charming, but by the end, as the script makes every bad decision up until the credits, you're ready to forget everything you just watched.
Commentary by director Ruben Fleischer: Given how funny Fleischer's previous films were I was expecting a more fun, lighthearted track, but this was honestly kind of dry. He covers the expected topics—the cast, visual and technical elements—except for the reshoots.
The Gangland Files: Turn this on and a picture-in-picture track accompanies the movie that shows you relevant trivia, interviews and other bonus material.
Focus Points (46:30): If you don't feel like watching the aforementioned PiP track, you can watch the 15 behind-the-scenes featurettes here. They cover everything from the actors, the real life characters they portray, costumes and more.
Deleted Scenes (12:20): Seven cut scenes with optional intros from Fleischer, but the original theater shootout is not one of them.
Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen (46:45): An in-depth feature narrated by the great William Devane that focuses on Sean Penn's villainous character.
Tough Guys with Style (4:55): Cast and crew discuss the look and feel of 1940s Los Angeles.
Then and Now Locations (8:03): Compare pics of the film's locations from the 1940s and today.
Extra Tidbit: It took three hours of makeup to turn Sean Penn in to Mickey Cohen.