The first big film of 2013 has the potential to be its most disappointing, with Gangster Squad a major fumble for director Ruben Fleischer who wastes an all-star cast and sure fire premise.
Fleischer had a lot of expectations placed on him after his debut Zombieland wowed audiences and critics alike. Now following on from his lacklustre sophomore effort 30 Minutes of Less, Fleischer not only has a disappointing film on his hands but one which had the potential to be great. If box-office receipts match the expected critical slaughter, Gangster Squad could be one of the biggest flubs in recent cinema history.
Based on the book by Paul Lieberman, Gangster Squad is set in post WWII Los Angeles where monstrous true life mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) built a crime empire on extortion, gambling, murder, corruption and fear. Declaring war is a group of hard boiled cops (Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick) who leave the badge at home and bring the pain. The film states it is based on true events, but one has a feeling that is a stretch.
What stands out with Gangster Squad is that it’s a film of eye popping style, which makes sense since it is essentially a live action cartoon noir. Swank production design plays backdrop to ham filled performances, led by Penn who mugs the camera with such ferocious intensity that at time it’s just too much.
On the other end of the spectrum is Josh Brolin, who plays the heroic cop with a penchant for violence to gritty if not unmemorable results, such is the by-product of a poorly written script (courtesy of Will Beall). Striking the right balance between the two is Ryan Gosling, who rises above the material with a cocky-cool performance that has the right amount of charm, swagger and Mickey Mouse accent to make for the most enjoyable thing is an otherwise forgetful movie.
Violence is something Gangster Squad is not in short supply of and it does get quite gruesome. Yet no matter how many threats are made, skulls are cracked and guns are fired (and boy they do ever!), lacking is a sense of stakes throughout it all. Never does the feeling of danger from the crooks or purpose from the cops manifest itself in a film where good takes on evil. All that is felt is the mediocre stench of a missed opportunity, and one can’t wonder how many of those Fleischer can afford.
(Note: After the tragic events of the Aurora shotting, the release of Gangster Squad was delayed due to a scene where characters shoot mahcine guns into a crowded movie theatre. That scene has since been removed.)