*1/2 (out of four)
This true story of morally questionable, mid-20th century L.A. cops and their efforts to rid the city of organized crime and corruption contains so much intrigue, it’s a wonder no one’s done it before.
Oops, they have. Sixteen years after Curtis Hanson’s exceptional “L.A. Confidential,” the silly, redundant “Gangster Squad” attempts to mine the period for violent pizzazz and romantic va-va-voom. Its flair is all posturing, its hints of style nothing but hollow tricks.
That’s because director Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland,” “30 Minutes or Less”) seems flustered by genre conventions. Well, and because of the dreadful script by first-time feature writer Will Beall, adapting Paul Lieberman’s book, which chronicles Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and his “Ocean’s Eleven”-style crew recruited to drive vicious crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) out of town. Helping select the gangster squad, who actually do call themselves that, is O’Mara’s wife Connie (Mireille Enos), who says things like, “You need someone with brains to balance the brawn” after already advising her veteran husband, “The war is over; stop fighting.”
Reunited from “Crazy Stupid Love,” Ryan Gosling (as Jerry, a cop who carelessly cozies up to Mickey Cohen’s gal Grace and only wants to fight after his favorite shoe-shine boy gets shot) and Emma Stone (as Grace) engage in playful banter that leads only to an underwritten relationship. Stone’s a wonderful, likable actress but she has neither the presence nor the curves to play the bombshell. The crass, finesse-free “Gangster Squad” spends more time on the squad (which includes Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick) working their case without any riveting sequences or complicated moral wrinkles to iron out. When Ribisi’s character questions what they’re doing, John says it’s the only way they can do it, and that’s that. The movie merely delivers several opening bits of brutality followed by ordinary action that makes you want to go back and re-watch “The Untouchables” or “L.A. Confidential” or “Goodfellas.”
Reminder: “Gangster Squad” was originally set for a September release, but following the movie theater tragedy in Aurora, Colo., Warner Bros. pulled the film’s trailer—which featured a shooting in a movie theater—while also postponing the film’s release and cutting that scene altogether. That was the right move, but almost everything else about the film came out wrong.
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