“Gangster Squad” Movie Review

    Movies are always predictably bad when they come out in January and are laden with A-list stars.  Unfortunately, director Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad” does nothing to buck this trend as it is a bad combination of miscast actors, poor writing, and run of the mill visuals.  The rule of thumb on these January duds is simple.  Studios normally drop these types of films here because they know they have something that is mediocre at best.  If they really thought they had something with “Gangster Squad”, the studio would’ve given it a play date in the Summer or late Fall.  After viewing the film, it’s easy to see why they’ll be happy with what they get now.

     Let’s start with Josh Brolin as the main protagonist and resident tough guy.  Brolin looks and sounds fake from the beginning and an action star he is not.  I can’t see how a casting director would ever cast Brolin in a genre film after viewing him in the god awful “Jonah Hex” a few years back.  His lines are delivered in much the same monotone voice you’d expect from Steven Seagal, but without the screen presence to back it up.  Here he’s partnered with Ryan Gosling, who also has no business in these types of roles.  In one scene, he’s featured wearing a tight white undershirt which reveals his skinny arms and his frail looking 140 pound frame.  Neither of the two leads look the part and in retrospect, they probably should’ve cast the film’s villain, Sean Penn, in the lead since he has the better on screen persona.  As Mickey Cohen, Penn wears a strange prosthetic nose that is painfully obvious and highly distracting.  His dialogue is limited to cliched mob boss phrases and is given nothing interesting say.  Such a shame given Penn’s talents as an actor.

     Will Beall’s script does nothing to develop the most important parts of the story.  In the beginning, we see Cohen order the death of a Chicago gangster by way of being tied to two cars that rip him in half.  Within minutes of that scene, we see LAPD Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) ordering Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin) to recruit a squad of rogue cops to take out Cohen’s operation.  You never really get any solid back story or supporting evidence that Cohen’s position in the criminal underworld would require such a drastic and illegal measure.  It’s as if they expect you to  take Cohen’s standing at face value and just roll with it, which is not a hallmark of a solid first act.  Even the film’s relationships are hurried.  In one scene, Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling) asks Cohen’s girlfriend, Grace (Emma Stone), to sleep with him.  Next scene, they are waking up in bed together the next morning.  There’s no conversation between the two and as far as we know they met that evening simply by glancing at each other across the room.  She’s not a prostitute, but she’s sure acting like one if that’s really all it takes.  Maybe she recognized Gosling from “The Notebook” and couldn’t contain herself.

     Fleischer’s handling of the film’s action sequences bring nothing new to the table.  There are your obligatory car chases and shoot outs with plenty of macho talk spoken in short easy to understand sentences.  Nothing to really work your brain out, just a glossy overdone period piece filled with actors who probably thought the pay day sounded good.  There are no twists or nifty plot devices.  Eventually Cohen and his crew learn the identities of O’Mara’s team and go after them and their families.  After a drive by shooting at O’Mara’s house he utters the typical “Let’s finish this!” line and goes after Cohen one more time.  With all the bullets flying around, you’d think the film would’ve ended in a bloody shootout.  Instead, Fleischer has O’Mara and Cohen put their guns down in the middle of a park and have an old fashioned fist fight.  Brolin could really have used Seagal’s fighting skills against Cohen, that way the movie could’ve ended sooner. GRADE: D-