Bang, Bang, Yawn, Yawn

'Gangster Squad' was delayed, but it should have been shelved

When the release date of Gangster Squad was delayed after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, the reason seemed to be due to a scene depicting violence in a movie theater. That scene, which was featured in the trailer, has been removed.

They should've scrapped the whole picture. This movie is a mess.

Gangster Squad is a very, very fictional account of the Los Angeles Police Department's "under the table" efforts to remove gangster Mickey Cohen (played here by a truly awful Sean Penn) from power. While next to nothing in this movie actually happened, I could forgive a little artistic license when it comes to a gangster pic.

What I can't forgive is cartoon caricatures, terrible performances, a misguided directorial tone and crap screenplay. Hello, January.

The film is set in 1949 Los Angeles, where mobster Cohen has a firm grip on organized crime and the cops. Well-meaning LAPD Chief Parker (a typically grizzled Nick Nolte) tells brave Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to leave his badge at home, gather a squad of badasses and disrupt Cohen's operations.

The squad includes soft-voiced Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), a slightly blasé officer who plays with his lighter a lot. There's also the brainiac (Giovanni Ribisi), who will spend much of the movie wearing headphones and tinkering with things.

There's the knife-wielding officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), who will throw a knife at your hand in a crowded nightclub, even though he's a cop and probably shouldn't be doing things like that, what with lots of people standing around and all. And, finally, there's the comic book hero (Robert Patrick) and his sidekick (Michael Pena) both great with their guns and the wisecracks.

Together, they form a force that they wish was as cool as the Untouchables, but achieves a lameness factor on par with the Scooby Doo gang (Live-action Scooby, not animated. Animated Scooby was cool).

Director Ruben Fleischer is shooting for an authentic late-'40s gangster film feel, but achieves something more akin to parody. It's a bunch of usually decent actors playing dress-up with their toy guns, and they all seem lost.

Emma Stone wastes her time as perhaps the film's most bizarre character. She is Cohen's etiquette coach (rather than making her a straight-up hooker), somebody who is sleeping with a monster, and then two-timing him with Gosling's Wooter. And, yet, we are supposed to like her.

Good luck trying to make that character sympathetic. They dress Stone up in heavy makeup and flashy dresses, and feed her terrible dialogue. She's completely wrong for the role, although I would have a hard time picking somebody right for it.

Penn has chewed scenery before (I Am Sam, Casualties of War). This time out, he not only chews the scenery, he's a freaking wood chipper. His entire performance goes in his hilariously contorted face and shoots out his butt. I appreciate Penn as an actor most of the time, but sometimes—just sometimes—he can be the worst actor on the planet. This is one of those times.

Regrettably, the more reliable Gosling is just as bad, perhaps worse. He decides to utilize a voice here that makes him sound like a 12-year-old kid doing a lame James Cagney impersonation. It's bad to the point of distraction, as is his constantly flipping his lighter in a manner that I'm sure he thinks is authentic. We get it Ryan Gosling ... you learned how to flip your lighter, '40s style. Now, knock it off.

Gangster Squad lacks originality, a sense of purpose, style, class, ducks (I didn't see one damn duck in this whole movie!), Michael Keaton (although it feels like his Johnny Dangerously character could pop out any moment) and a basic overall reason for being. The problem with this film wasn't the violent movie theater scene they had to excise. The whole damn thing stinks.

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