Gangster Squad proves that an all-star cast and flashy direction aren't enough for what is essentially an unnecessary and ultimately bland upgrade of The Untouchables. Featuring the likes of Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña and Giovanni Ribisi, Gangster Squad is moderately entertaining on occasion but instantly forgettable.
The movie, set in 1949, is about an off-the-books police squad that wage war on gangster Mickey Cohen, who has a stranglehold on Los Angeles.
Gangster Squad is violent - the first scene has a man being torn in two - and pretty to look at, but where it suffers is shoddy writing and lackluster character development. The action works, but everything in between just doesn't click.
Josh Brolin's John O'Mara, the film's lead protagonist and the group's leader, is a bullheaded idiot who charges into situations, often screws things up and risks everything for small fries. Worse, he doesn't have a true character arc or explanation as to why he is as stupid as he is.
A better lead would have been Gosling's Jerry Wooters, who begins the film unfazed by Cohen's rise to power but quickly comes around to taking on the gangster - and indulging in the man's girl (Stone). Unfortunately, his character isn't very well developed either and his chemistry with Stone is flat and uninteresting. The two were great together in Crazy, Stupid, Love., which makes their weak relationship in Gangster Squad all the more obvious.
The rest of the cast are even less developed, which makes the whole affair shrug-worthy. Even Penn isn't able to do much with his scene-chewing character; Mickey Cohen was an intriguing real-life person, but writer Will Beall doesn't offer much separation from countless other mob bosses that have been put to screen over the years.
Gangster Squad is far from being a disaster, but with the talent involved the movie could have been so much more. The filmmakers needed to focus less on style and more on substance, especially when it came to the characters. It'll serve as harmless rental, but that's it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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