Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gangster Squad

GANGSTER SQUAD: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (110 min.)

I wish the brain trust behind Gangster Squad wouldn’t have watched so many movies. Then, perhaps, they wouldn’t have been so dead set on trying to squeeze every tired gangster-movie line, look, idea, or result into a two-hour window. Gangster Squad has promise at times, thanks in most part to a staggering cast of wonderful actors and a production design that is sleek and attractive. Everything looks and feels absolutely classy. But, alas, Gangster Squad spent entirely too much time marinating in the cliché factory.

As I said, the attraction here is the all-star cast doing their best to wade through the stale dialogue and telegraphed action. Josh Brolin plays Sergeant John O’Mara, an honest cop in the middle of a corrupt Post World War II Los Angeles. O’Mara has a deep-seeded desire to rub out the encroaching Mob in the form of Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, picking the scenery out of his teeth all the way throughout), a former boxer turned power-hungry gangster with a taste for blood, murder and mayhem. Cohen has a dream to run all of Los Angeles and he is well on his way to doing that with most of the policemen, lawmakers and judges in his back pocket. Any move O’Mara makes on Cohen is undercut by the officials on the Mob’s payroll.

Enter Nick Nolte as the police chief, Parker, a grizzled old vet of the Force who wants Cohen out of town just as much as O’Mara. He gives O’Mara the authority to… wait for it… “assemble a team.” The team will consist of four or five policemen who will go beyond the law to shut down Cohen’s operations all over town. This allows the film to fit in the obligatory assembly montage where O’Mara digs through police files and conjures up characters with one or two defining idiosyncrasies. There is the famous old Cowboy cop, a sharpshooter named Kennard (Robert Patrick), the surveillance guru (Giovanni Ribisi), the token Hispanic cop (Michael Pena, wasted here) and the token African-American cop (Anthony Mackie). Then there is Jerry Wooters, another War veteran who is more jaded with Cohen’s power over the city. Wooters, played by Ryan Gosling, is more concerned with drinking, hitting the night life and chasing “dames.” The one he has his eye on, Grace (Emma Stone) just so happens to be Mickey Cohen’s main squeeze, though she doesn’t want to be. Jerry and Grace have a romance throughout the film, but is luke warm to say the least.

The rest of Gangster Squad unfolds in predictable fashion. If the audience has seen films like The Untouchables (the mob film this one most closely resembles) then they will be one step ahead of the action and will grow increasingly bored as all the suspense is drained from the picture. The actors try, for the most part, to energize the film. But the clichés stack up on each other and the film buckles under the weight of “been there, done that.” Many of these talented actors are given very little interesting to do except for Gosling and Penn. Gosling oozes charm and magnetism, and Penn is really having a good time playing such a boisterous hood.

Gangster Squad is a showcase of art direction and production design, with everything sleek and smooth and golden brown. There may have been a good film in here somewhere had the screenplay gotten as much attention as the sets and the costumes, but the film as a whole doesn’t deliver. As the film neared the end I found myself curious if we had seen every cliché in the gangster genre. And then, a character throws his badge into the ocean and I was certain I had, in fact, seen them all.