It’s probably next to impossible to write a review about Gangster Squad without mentioning the tragedy that happened in Aurora, Colorado, last summer during a Dark Knight Rises screening. Originally featuring a scene with a big shootout taking place inside a crowded movie theater, Warner Bros. wisely decided to push the release of Gangster Squad back so that director Ruben Fleischer could shoot a new alternate scene to replace it. Set to release back in September of 2012, and having now seen the film, it’s obvious that the replacement scene wasn’t the only reason for Warner Bros. moving the film to the “dump month” of January. The film has way more issues than what was replaced, but more on that to come.
Gangster Squad is inspired by the true story of a band of cops brought together to bring down mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Set in 1949, Cohen is striking a reign of terror into the heart of Los Angeles, mistaking everything he does as “progress,” not murder. Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) has had enough and follows a girl fresh off the train to one of Mickey’s buildings. After single-handedly rescuing the girl and arresting three of Mickey’s men, John is asked by Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to wage some guerilla warfare on Mickey to give the City of Angels back to the people.
With the help of fellow Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) and Officers Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Conway “Redshirt” Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), and Conway Keeler, they band together to bring Mickey down if it’s the last thing they do. Even if against the will of John’s pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos), who handpicked John’s Gangster Squad herself, and puts the life of Grace (Emma Stone) (Jerry’s girl who also happens to “belong” to Mickey) on the line.
Gangster Squad does start out rather nicely; we get Sean Penn chewing every piece of scenery he can while ripping mob bosses from Chicago in half, while John is lopping off gangster hands using elevator lifts. But it’s all downhill as the runtime goes on. Gosling and Stone seem to be in their own little film, which would be fine if that were the one we were watching. Instead, we get treated to more and more screentime with Penn apparently thinking he’s starring in an R-rated Dick Tracy 2. And just when things start to get too boring, the finale shows up to blow you away — with the loudest shootout imaginable. If Penn wasn’t able to keep your eyes open with his insistent yelling, the theater’s sound system has all kinds of ear-piercing chaos just waiting to shoot its load.
Screenwriter Will Beall adapts Paul Lieberman’s novel as best he can, but we’re a long way from The Departed or Goodfellas. Beall is also attached to write Warner Bros’ Justice League, with the Logan’s Run remake and Lethal Weapon 5 also on his plate. He does have a knack for witty characters, so maybe a group of superheroes and a couple of aging/bickering cops might be right up his alley. As for director Fleischer, his only upcoming film is the announced Zombieland 2, which should hopefully bring him back to the limelight we were hoping he deserved. But after 30 Minutes or Less and Gangster Squad, going back to basics could be just what he needs.
Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures