Gangster Squad can't live up to its promise

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Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Ryan Gosling. Rated 14A. Now playing

Okay, you don’t feel quite as bad as the mob flunky who gets torn in two and then eaten by coyotes in Gangster Squad. But watching this movie does make you imagine something’s gnawing at you in the dark like a wild animal. What is it, besides hunger for nachos? Oh, yeah: rabid disappointment.

A new L.A. period crime drama seemed damn exciting: Sean Penn playing mobster Mickey Cohen; square-mugged Josh Brolin playing the leader of a secret destroy-Cohen cop squad; Ryan Gosling playing handsome. Then director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland ) and screenwriter Will Beall apparently forgot their minds—and what makes a cops ’n’ gangsters classic, uh, classic—but remembered that the movie should probably have lots of machine guns.

Did they take The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential and accidentally ditch atmosphere, nostalgia, authenticity, and intelligent plotting? Or were they trying to make the movie equivalent of pouring Froot Loops from the box straight into your mouth while playing a first-person-shooter game and watching cartoons? With fedoras.

Incidentally, Penn’s makeup almost makes him look like Al Pacino’s Dick Tracy mobster. He’s full-on psychopathic as Cohen, but nobody told him the real guy was also charming. As ladies’-man cop Jerry, Gosling slides through on his weirdo charm and, importantly, biceps. Jer hooks up unintriguingly with Cohen’s babe, Grace (Emma Stone, being a preschooler dressed as a gun moll for Halloween). “He’ll kill you if he finds out,” Grace tells Jer. Really? Maybe somebody should take the fall for the terrible dialogue. And for squandering other squad members Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, and Anthony Mackie.

There are shiny cool cars, Hollywood landmarks, car chases, bloodbaths, and something that tastes brutish, flashy, and lazy. There are possibly more bullets fired in this movie than in any other movie ever. May we throw ourselves into the barrage?

Watch the trailer for Gangster Squad.

 

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