Talk about a misfire. An extra-pulpy 1940s crime drama with visions of The Untouchables
in its eyes, Gangster Squad
aims for homage, but the impatient direction of Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland
) lacks the grace and wit of a true noir. Based on the allegedly true story of an LAPD shadow unit that brought down one of the city’s most notorious crime lords, Gangster Squad
stars Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen, a boxer-turned-psychopathic kingpin with a scowl permanently etched into his face. Seriously: The makeup gives Penn the look of a Dick Tracy villain, and he plays Cohen with attendant cartoonish malevolence. The new police chief (Nick Nolte, talking like he swallowed Tom Waits) gives Josh Brolin’s bullheaded but incorruptible Sgt. James O’Mara—a World War II vet for whom the war has not ended—the green light to engage in guerrilla combat with the previously untouchable Cohen. Ryan Gosling is a fellow vet for whom the war has
ended and who is content to slurp cocktails and chase tail, but his usual smolder is snuffed by Will Beall’s underboiled script. Gangster Squad
bulldozes from elevator brawls to jailbreaks to car chases to a needlessly showy slow-mo shootout in a hotel lobby, pausing only for perfunctory male bonding and clunky dialogue that spells out the half-baked theme of the thin division between the lawful and the lawless. When one character gives a shooting lesson by tossing a beer can in the air, the other character takes the easy shot after the can lands in the dirt. I think I know how that can feels.