VOD film review: Gangster Squad
James R | On 27, Oct 2013
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Michael Peña, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie
Watch Gangster Squad online in the UK: Amazon Prime / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“Everybody wears a badge…” growls Josh Brolin in the hackneyed tradition of a detective in a period crime flick. From that moment on, Gangster Squad bears all the usual hallmarks: the suits, the cars, the guns, the women. The hats. It wears them pinned to its puffed-up chest, swaggering about like it owns the genre. Especially the hats.
And… that’s about it. Ruben Fleischer’s period crime flick looks mighty fine, but there’s nothing beneath the surface.
The problem is that it doesn’t realise. So when Sean Penn’s Micky Cohen rocks up in Los Angeles and tears a guy in two with a couple of cars, he thinks he’s being scary. But actually, he’s being funny. Funny how? Like a clown, unaware that people are laughing at his random shouty outbursts and ambitious evil plans. He’s Dick Dastardly meets Dick Tracy. In the most laughable way possible.
That same divide troubles the good guys too. Brolin’s married hero, John O”Mara, spends his days beating the violence out of the city with a chiselled passion. But even he loses serious points when ordered to form an off-the-books assault team to take down Cohen’s system – a tactical decision that his wife makes for him (Wagster Squad would be a far more interesting watch).
“You’ll need someone with brains,” she explains, talking over a recruitment montage that introduces a wiretapping specialist, a sharp-shooter and a cop who throws knives. It’s like watching a 1930s version of X-Men. And Ruben Fleischer’s comic book visuals, which owe a little to Zack Snyder, only emphasise the cardboard thin characters.
The Zombieland director pulls off some decent enough set pieces, splattering blood and spraying bullets at every opportunity. Fleischer even manages to blend the digital look with the saturated production design – adding to the brutality of fistfights, rather than distracting from the art deco buildings. Instead, that job falls to Sean Penn, who doesn’t so much chomp the scenery as inhale it, swimming pools, dogs and all.
All this would work if everyone were reading from Ruben’s script, but our straight-faced cast treat this as historical drama rather than period popcorn. Giovani Ribisi’s family man is suitably timid, Robert Patrick’s sharp-shooting gramp is crinkly and sarcastic, and Emma Stone’s squeeze is more than a match for her character’s limited remit. Try as they might, unlike the flawless LA Confidential or Chinatown, their dialogue doesn’t ring true. “I can’t tell the difference between us and them anymore,” says one good guy halfway through, adding zero depth to the shallow parade of violence.
Whether it’s Will Beall’s uneven screenplay or the extended time spent in the cutting room (several scenes in the trailer are now absent), the heavily-edited plot can’t decide whether to be bad, good, or amusingly terrible.
The only one who seems blissfully unaware of it all is Ryan Gosling, whose high-pitched Romeo preens his way through on autopilot. For many, that’s all they want: Ryan Gosling in a hat. And boy, does he know how to wear a hat. Sadly, that’s all there is to this cartoon.
“Everybody’s wears a badge,” growls Brolin. That’s Gangster Squad in a nutshell: grown-ups dressing up to play cops and robbers. It’s an adult Bugsy Malone, but someone forgot to order the custard pies.
Gangster Squad is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.