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Review: Gangster Squad

Jan. 10, 2013by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: In post WW2-L.A, a tough but honest cop, John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) is tasked by LAPD chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to assemble a unit devoted to wiping out gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).

REVIEW: GANGSTER SQUAD starts with the oft-used phrase "inspired by true events". In this case, the true events are that Mickey Cohen was a real gangster, and that the LAPD did indeed try to shut him down, but everything else is pure fiction. Cohen- while a powerful thug in his day, was probably not the maniacal super-villain portrayed here by Sean Penn, who opens the film by ripping a crony in half a la HITCHER, and then feeding the remains to the wolves. No matter- THE UNTOUCHABLES was largely BS, and that was still a terrific movie. In the end, it doesn't really matter that GANGSTER SQUAD is about as accurate a depiction of 1940's L.A as WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT...

Indeed, GANGSTER SQUAD seems to be trying really hard to be the next UNTOUCHABLES, but ZOMBIELAND director Ruben Fleischer, working from a script by Will Beall, struggles to give the film any style of it's own- with the finished product just coming off like a clone of other, better movies. There's a ton of THE UNTOUCHABLES mixed in here, along with an attempt to give this the intrigue of L.A CONFIDENTIAL, but the script isn't smart enough to even come close. Too bad, because considering the A plus cast, the healthy budget, and the unapologetic R-rating, this could have been a classic.

Rather, GANGSTER SQUAD ends up being your typical, overblown Hollywood action film. It's loud, and full of carnage, but very little of it is memorable. Everything is so ramped up in an attempt to make it "extreme" or "hardcore" that you become numb to it after about forty minutes. I'll give Fleischer some credit, one or two of the action scenes are impressive. A shootout in Chinatown, which seems like an obvious nod to the train-station shootout in THE UNTOUCHABLES, is effective (rumour has it, this was the sequence they reshot, after having scrapped the original movie theater shootout post-Aurora). But most of the action is so overwrought that it becomes campy, especially a car-chase that seems to rely heavily on CGI pyrotechnics, and the finale- involving a balcony mounted Gatling gun, and thousands of rounds of ammo (yet no cops- other than our heroes, show up).

But again, suspension of disbelief is fine, as long as the story is juicy enough to back it up. But by reducing the Mickey Cohen saga to a super generic cops and robbers story, it becomes tacky, and boring. Penn seems to be having fun as the satanic Cohen- with this being the kind of part that calls for him to say things like "they know the drill" before having his lackeys use a power drill on someone's skull. Sure- there's some creative sadism on display (again, this doesn't shy away from the R rating)- but he's a cartoon (and under layers of makeup, looks like he walked off the set of DICK TRACY), albeit a fun one.

The good guys don't fare quite as well- despite the fact that the talent on display is top notch. Blame it on cardboard, two-dimensional characters. Josh Brolin plays the square-jawed hero like Dick Tracy crossed with Dirty Harry, but rather than being badass, he comes off bland. Ryan Gosling, as the squad's ladies man, tries hard to make his character a little different, adopting a soft-spoken way of talking that sounds nicely noir. But still, he doesn't get much to do other than look handsome, and occasionally shoot someone. Emma Stone plays the typical doe-eyed gangster's moll, with a heart of gold- and while her chemistry with Gosling is still good (as it was in CRAZY STUPID LOVE), and she looks terrific, it can't overcome the fact that the script gives her absolutely nothing to work with.

The rest of the squad- Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, and Robert Patrick, as a six-gun toting, old-timey cowboy cop, all seem game and do their best, but again they're let down by the absolute predictability of the plot. It gets to the point that you can pretty much count the clichs (walking away from an explosion- check, burning piles of cash- check, never running out of bullets but then running out just when you need them-check, and on, and on)- with the doomed characters having their imminent demises so obvious they may as well have "victim" stamped on their foreheads.

Everything about GANGSTER SQUAD just feels by-the-numbers and recycled, from the Hans Zimmer-ish core by Steve Jablonsky, to Fleischer's frequent ZOMBIELAND-style slow-motion cut ins. The only time his approach really feels fresh is during a brief jailhouse scrap whether the lights go out, and the action is conveyed by flashes of bright still images- which is kinda cool.

It's too bad GANGSTER SQUAD falls short, as it had the potential to be absolutely amazing, and could have been with this exact same cast. I guess we'll have to wait until Frank Darabont's L.A NOIR to get a really cool take on the same period. Until then, I suggest re-watching L.A CONFIDENTIAL- although, if you just want to see some carnage, you might like this.

Extra Tidbit: I should note that the audience I saw this with applauded at the end, so what do I know? Then again, they may have just been happy to see a movie for free.
Source: JoBlo.com

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+3
3:13AM on 01/12/2013

My red is for the review

I found it to be rather enjoyable. It's not movie gold, but it's definitely a fun time at the movies.
I found it to be rather enjoyable. It's not movie gold, but it's definitely a fun time at the movies.
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3:13AM on 01/12/2013
And by red, I mean grey apparently.
And by red, I mean grey apparently.
1:38PM on 01/11/2013
Sorry i just never dug the title of the movie, it's so corny so it's no surprise it seems a bit campy & over the top. I just can't take it serious. When a movie has to try to look other movies that were better, you know you are already in trouble. I'll wait for DVD & rent it. Funny thing is I am a huge nut for gangster movies.
Sorry i just never dug the title of the movie, it's so corny so it's no surprise it seems a bit campy & over the top. I just can't take it serious. When a movie has to try to look other movies that were better, you know you are already in trouble. I'll wait for DVD & rent it. Funny thing is I am a huge nut for gangster movies.
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6:43PM on 01/10/2013
Good review...
Good review...
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+0
12:59PM on 01/10/2013
Wow that sucks. I was hoping it would be more like the Untouchables.
Wow that sucks. I was hoping it would be more like the Untouchables.
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12:15PM on 01/10/2013
Not surprised. I smelled shit the moment I saw the first trailer.
Not surprised. I smelled shit the moment I saw the first trailer.
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10:30AM on 01/10/2013

I knew it would suck. Called that one right off the top

It looks like Mobsters 2013. Ruben Fleischer fucking sucks. Zombieland was only well received because it played with the zombie genre and mainstream audiences hadn't seen it made fun and light yet. He saw something popular on the fringe and mass marketed it. It's a shit movie and he should quit trying. Gangster Squad looks like a sure thing for a Razzie.
It looks like Mobsters 2013. Ruben Fleischer fucking sucks. Zombieland was only well received because it played with the zombie genre and mainstream audiences hadn't seen it made fun and light yet. He saw something popular on the fringe and mass marketed it. It's a shit movie and he should quit trying. Gangster Squad looks like a sure thing for a Razzie.
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-1
9:50AM on 01/10/2013

wow

I was expecting it to get better rating. I'll still see it, but whether its in theaters or not depends on word of mouth, I sometimes agree with joblo ratings, sometimes.
I was expecting it to get better rating. I'll still see it, but whether its in theaters or not depends on word of mouth, I sometimes agree with joblo ratings, sometimes.
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9:36AM on 01/10/2013
damn.
damn.
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6:16AM on 01/10/2013
Not surprised at all.
Not surprised at all.
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5:54AM on 01/10/2013
Really wanted to see it but then they removed the scene that wowed me in the trailer and that had me sold
Really wanted to see it but then they removed the scene that wowed me in the trailer and that had me sold
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5:40AM on 01/10/2013

Looked like a crappy movie anyways.

Have people lost their sense of direction? How can someone actually say that this looked like a good movie? You should be able to tell by now that the acting would be hokey and the plot paper thin and only exists to have people on screen use their guns to look "cool" to get your attention. Same thing happened with that forgettable Depp/Bale gangster movie.
Have people lost their sense of direction? How can someone actually say that this looked like a good movie? You should be able to tell by now that the acting would be hokey and the plot paper thin and only exists to have people on screen use their guns to look "cool" to get your attention. Same thing happened with that forgettable Depp/Bale gangster movie.
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9:53AM on 01/10/2013
Not everything has to be perfect to make a movie enjoyable.
Not everything has to be perfect to make a movie enjoyable.
1:40PM on 01/11/2013
You mean Public Enemies? That was a pretty decent flick, it just got lost in the mix.
You mean Public Enemies? That was a pretty decent flick, it just got lost in the mix.
5:38AM on 01/10/2013
Quit the cast list. Unfortunately there weren't any characters other than Sean Penn and Troy Garity, although Troy didn't have any lines, just some badass eye makeup. The story was just as bland as the characters that moved it. The character development was rushed and didn't connect on an emotional level so it was hard to give a shit about any of them. I thought this was going to be The Untouchables, sub DeNiro for Penn, Costner for Brolin, Connery for either Gosling or Patrick, and the geek
Quit the cast list. Unfortunately there weren't any characters other than Sean Penn and Troy Garity, although Troy didn't have any lines, just some badass eye makeup. The story was just as bland as the characters that moved it. The character development was rushed and didn't connect on an emotional level so it was hard to give a shit about any of them. I thought this was going to be The Untouchables, sub DeNiro for Penn, Costner for Brolin, Connery for either Gosling or Patrick, and the geek for Giovanni. Like the old saying goes "they don't make 'em like they used to." Sean Penn was incredible as Mickey and that's about it. He completely disappeared into the character. Thank God, too, because he hasn't done anything worth watching since Mystic River. I also liked Evan Jones, I always like his work (8 Mile as Cheddar Bob, Jarhead, Book of Eli, etc.), even if he only had a couple of lines in only a handful of shots in this flick. No one else other than the aforementioned gangsters were worth it.

I loved Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less by the way. I'm going to assume after this flick tanks at the box office, Ruben will be back doing what he does so well, action/comedies. And I'm pretty sure this was shot on video, because during a few sequences and especially towards the end it looked like a TV Soap Opera. Not to mention the god awful dialogue, aside from a few clever quips from Penn just before he winks, clicks his tongue, and orders a murder.

Skip this movie. We have our official first bomb and let down of 2013. Yeah, I said it!
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4:20AM on 01/10/2013
I think this looks great and will be seeing this on opening day for sure.
I think this looks great and will be seeing this on opening day for sure.
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4:20AM on 01/10/2013
I thought it was okay. Nothing groundbreaking or particularly special, but still entertaining and featuring relatively impressive performances. Definitely agree about the derivative Steve Jablonsky score, though.
I thought it was okay. Nothing groundbreaking or particularly special, but still entertaining and featuring relatively impressive performances. Definitely agree about the derivative Steve Jablonsky score, though.
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+2
3:26AM on 01/10/2013
I didn't expect this to be any good, the trailers looked hokey.
I didn't expect this to be any good, the trailers looked hokey.
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2:12AM on 01/10/2013
I knew something was off-putting from the trailers and clips. Definitely got that "trying too hard to be hip and appeal to the younger crowd" vibe. "Hey yo, we got Ryan Gosling posing and acting cool and shit!" 'Hey yo, we got Jay-Z on this shit too!" Still, probably will check it out on RedBox some day just to get my shoot-em-up fix.
I knew something was off-putting from the trailers and clips. Definitely got that "trying too hard to be hip and appeal to the younger crowd" vibe. "Hey yo, we got Ryan Gosling posing and acting cool and shit!" 'Hey yo, we got Jay-Z on this shit too!" Still, probably will check it out on RedBox some day just to get my shoot-em-up fix.
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+0
1:58AM on 01/10/2013
Pretty accurate. A very unremarkable film that wastes it's tremendous talent. I did enjoy the action and much of the acting, but pretty much all of it is just so unoriginal and uninteresting. There's next to no character development. Can't say I was disappointed, but I had hoped it would at least be better than it was.
Pretty accurate. A very unremarkable film that wastes it's tremendous talent. I did enjoy the action and much of the acting, but pretty much all of it is just so unoriginal and uninteresting. There's next to no character development. Can't say I was disappointed, but I had hoped it would at least be better than it was.
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+8
1:42AM on 01/10/2013
The real shitty make up on Sean Penn bothered me and he looked like he was trying to hard. You can tell by the trailers it was only going to be mediocre
The real shitty make up on Sean Penn bothered me and he looked like he was trying to hard. You can tell by the trailers it was only going to be mediocre
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1:36AM on 01/10/2013

Not surprising

All the trailers make Brolin and Gosling look like they were ordered to maintain one facial expression and tone of voice throughout the whole movie. This movie could also have benefitted from a better title IMO, a quality that is underrated substantially.
All the trailers make Brolin and Gosling look like they were ordered to maintain one facial expression and tone of voice throughout the whole movie. This movie could also have benefitted from a better title IMO, a quality that is underrated substantially.
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+3
1:34AM on 01/10/2013
Oh man this sucks. I liked that trailer.
Oh man this sucks. I liked that trailer.
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