Gangster Squad: Which way is Zombieland?

Gangster Squad Gangster Squad – 2013

Director Ruben Fleischer
Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña , Merielle Enos
Screenplay Will Beall from Tales from Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman

Gangster Squad is not nearly as bad as has been reported.  It’s nowhere near as good as it could have been.  It’s like a minor version of The Untouchables with a touch of L.A. Confidential thrown in.  It’s supposed story of the group of lawmen who forget their badges at night while taking it to the minions of Mickey Cohen feels abbreviated, and straight ahead with no hidden complications.  The result is entertaining at times, but has no real tension.

Fleischer’s career has sputtered since a wonderful début in Zombieland.  The spontaneity shown there seems to have been a fluke, as 30 Minutes or Less and now this film have the effect of lumbering along, moving from event to event and absent any amount of thrill.  Part of this is due to the casting.  Brolin is in Tommy Lee Jones mode here, as he plays a lawman without the nuance or humor Jones brings to his roles.  Similarly, Penn is so made up, it allows no facial motion, rendering him a jokey look, like Warren Beatty’s atrocious Dick Tracy.

Ryan Gosling has an odd accent that he somehow manages to pull off.  He is entertaining, and when she’s with Gosling, so is Stone.  When on her own, something is amiss.  For the first time in her movie career, she looks like a kid.  It suggests Jodie Foster in Bugsy Malone.  Mackie, Patrick and Peña are always entertaining, even if their supporting role curbs some of their appeal.  One absolutely pleasant surprise is Ribisi, who finally plays something other than a freakish bad guy.  His 1950’s era tech guy is brought to visceral life with his low-key performance.

There are plenty of severed limbs and bullet-riddled bodies to remind us that Fleischer is in charge, but given the relatively minuscule amount of real loss by the good guys has a muting effect on the how memorable this film will be.  There is nothing really offensive about Gangster Squad, unless you consider a lack of entertainment value offensive.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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