The Score: "'Gangster Squad' Is A Mess. It Looks Beautiful [But] Really Misses The Mark"

Friday, Jan 11, 2013 8:45PM

Written by Cyrus Langhorne

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  • Gangster Squad
  • Sean Penn, Josh Brolin
  • January 11, 2013
NJ Star-Ledger 2 out of 4
NY Daily News 3 out of 5
Detroit News 3 out 5
M Live 2 out of 4
Screen Rant 3 out of 5

If you are thirsty for some star-studded Hollywood studs unloading on bad guys in a late 1940's-early 1950's-based crime thriller then look no further than Gangster Squad this weekend.

Based more than 50 years ago, Gangster Squad relies on meshing a variety of key law enforcement characters to help take down injustice.

They are a family man, a playboy, a Latino, a black man, a cowboy and a nerd. But they are the most dangerous cops in the city, because they're the ones that can't be bought. And now they've put their badges away, risking their lives to go after the wickedest gangster in town. Why? Well, you know, "all that's necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," one hero quotes. They are the Gangster Squad. And so is their movie, and if it were any cornier you could pop it on your stove and drizzle it with butter. (NJ Star-Ledger)

The film's "bad guy" is a title reserved for Hollywood icon Sean Penn's character, "Mickey Cohen."

In 1949 Los Angeles, reigning gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) considers himself king. He's paid off the police, kept the Mafia at bay and put every possible judge in his pocket. But there are a few honest men left, including Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin). With the quiet approval of Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte), O'Mara assembles a team designed to eliminate Cohen and his vicious hold on the city. (New York Daily News)

Along with a few notable headliners, the movie packs a handful of secondary cast members including Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie and more.

Josh Brolin leads a stellar cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie and Robert Patrick as a rogue group of cops -- Nick Nolte is their boss -- determined to take down the ruthless Cohen, played by a crazed, hamming-it-up-to-the-max Sean Penn. Penn's Cohen is as cartoonish as a "Dick Tracy" villain, and he sounds like a parody of Andrew Dice Clay doing Tony Soprano. Yet his portrayal is appropriately menacing, and Penn shows little restraint as he goes off the rails. (Detroit News)

The flick initially had a September release date but got delayed due to last summer's Colorado movie theater shooting.

Notably, in the wake of the 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado, Fleischer cut a sequence in which a movie theater was the backdrop for a shootout, delaying the film's release. Otherwise, he doesn't hesitate to display grisly violence, or stylize it in a slo-moed montage soundtracked with uptempo be-bop jazz. Beall tosses in a couple lines about the moral conundrum of the Squad's vigilantism, but then promptly moves to the next shoot 'em up. Violence in film isn't always offensive, but what's the point, when the screenplay is so thin? (M Live)

The story comes courtesy of journalist Paul Lieberman who brought the Gangster Squad idea to life five years ago.

Lieberman's Tales from the Gangster Squad first appeared in the LA Times back in 2008 as a seven-part series chronicling a band of eight covert law enforcement agents attempting to free Los Angeles from the clutches of organized crime during the 1940s and 1950s. Fleischer's film tightens that activity window as Police Chief Bill Parker recruits former war veteran and no-nonsense cop Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) for a last ditch, no-holds-barred effort to destroy a criminal network built by mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). (Screen Rant)

Although loved by many, some movie critics pointed out problems with characters' chemistry and plot issues.

A consistent tone, light or dark, could have facilitated the story's blend of serious elements (such as family issues and ethical dilemmas) and penchant for flash. The film never achieves that balance, though. It's simply laborious. Gangster Squad is a mess. It looks beautiful, and everyone in it surely enjoyed dressing up in those gorgeous suits and shooting tommy guns, it really misses the mark. (Slash Film)
Otherwise, "Gangster Squad" is merely a display of familiar bad-good guys swigging Dirty Shirleys at Slapsy Maxie's, blasting tommy guns, swinging blackjacks, busting chops. Although it features a few entertaining bits, the film doesn't have the guts to be too dark or too kitschy, and might have worked well as a sly parody with a few tweaks in tone. Instead, it takes itself too seriously, drives down the middle of the road and offers little immersion into setting or shady noir. It's more flash than substance. (M Live)

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