Jan. 17, 2013 - Issue #900: The ongoing musical evolution of Hannah Georgas
The mob never gained a foothold in Los Angeles, but LA-set mobster movies have never gained a foothold in Hollywoodland (as it was known in 1949), either, and the cardboard-cutout Gangster Squad isn't going to change that. Blink once, after the lights come up, and it's as if this airy piece of puffery had never even flitted through the cinema and landed on the screen.
The story starts with some leering, jeering violence—two cars ripping a Chicago gangster's torso into pulp for coyotes to sup on—then just spins its wheels. The man behind the mayhem is Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a pug-nosed, pug-faced ex-pugilist growling about how he's "progress"—more like the Prince of Evil personified. So any suggestions that John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) or his posse of badge-less, vigilante cops are crossing the line and becoming like Cohen come off as lip service, even as the blood spatters and spills, pointlessly. Neither side gets compelling characterization; Emma Stone's "tomato" of a moll could be any redhead.
While Prohibition-era mobster drama Boardwalk Empire's offering a novelistic, profound take on the American melting-pot of corruption, crime and politics, Gangster Squad comes off as a hollow masquerade, play-acting at machismo for nearly two hours. Along with the furniture tossed in fits of rage, there are empty flourishes of neo-noir style, rote action sequences (and one strange slo-mo swoon over shot-up Christmas decorations), and little danger for our hardboiled heroes. The movie plummets into an uncanny valley between the purposeful cartoonishness of Dick Tracy and the moral shadows of LA Confidential.
It ends with a trite tribute to the thousands of cops serving LA. But this flick, with its superhero-ish title and bad-comic-book flatness (little wonder the screenwriter's penning Justice League next), can't frame-up the truth. Because, post-Rodney King and post-Rampart scandal, the biggest LA-set crime-genre has been the crooked or troubled cop movie. Gangster Squad can't boys-in-blue our eyes to those true colours-shown in TV series The Shield (2002-08), Rampart (2011) or Dennis Hopper's Colors (1988), starring a different Sean Penn, his face no cosmetic caricature of evil, but a troubled reflection of a city where there are no angels.
Opens Now playing
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
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