Not a Movie Snob - Gangster Squad

Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 05:00 PM

"Cops n' Robbers"

Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad is a big, dumb movie. I don't mean it's stupid, I mean it's dumb, it's thick. A testosterone fuelled, damsel in distress, vengeance is mine joy ride through the violent streets of L.A. in the noir-ish 1940's.

In the 1940's Roosevelt, then Truman ran America, while in the first half of the decade WWII saw the rise of history's most reviled human monster and the now beloved film classics It's A Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane bombed at the theatres upon release. And in the 1940's Mickey Cohen ran the City of Angels. He kept everybody in line, and everybody else in his pocket while he pumped the streets full of drugs and the rivers full of bodies for almost ten years. A hell of a length of time for men in his profession and men with tendencies as violent as Mickey's. But while Mickey's pockets were jam packed with cops whose vacations and new cars and dates at fancy restaurants were paid by turning their heads away from his direction, not every cop is corruptible, not every man has a price. The Chief of police wants Mickey run out of town and he knows there's only a few scattered cops who won't bend to Mickey's pocketbook. And so is born the gangster squad.

And that's about it. That much of the story is true, that much of the story is in the movie, and the movie doesn't contain a whole lot more. It's a simplistic plot, overly so. The writing is poor, the dialogue a collage of stereotypical cliched one liners and maniacal bad guy jabberings. Some people have mentioned that the film doesn't know whether it wants to be a spoof or a homage to the gangster genre. I don't see that. I think it takes itself seriously, but I can see why people could walk away with that impression:

#1: Sean Penn. An incredibly gifted performer and a great choice for Cohen, but way, way over the top in this movie. I know in real life Cohen was a short tempered, violent little mobster, but watching Penn spit and froth his way through the film was almost too much.
#2: The film's directed by Ruben Fleischer, who made the very popular, mostly comedic film Zombieland, which could easily be called a spoof/homage zombie genre movie.
#3: As previously mentioned, there's just not enough meaty story to carry the film for two straight hours. It's hard to take a film taking itself seriously in that regard.

However, all that being said, I did really enjoy Gangster Squad. Why? Mainly because I'm a sucker for style. You won't hear a lot of critics say the same, but I will forgive a film its lack of substance if its style makes up for it. Visually this film just pops. I think we can all agree that the 1940's was the coolest looking time to be a gangster. The tommy guns, shiny, hard top cars, the suits and hats and loafers. It's dangerous to look that cool and be that unlawful. What will the kids think? But Ruben doesn't stop with the suits and cars, he films the gun fights like a music video, with pauses and flower pots exploding in slow motion from bullet impacts. It might all sound very schlocky, but it works and considering this is a film with no shortage of guns going off, there's always something fun to look at.

I won't pretend Gangster Squad is a good movie because it looks nice and mixes violence with style in that Tarantino-esque way that I like. It's a film of little plot and big, bullish men shooting each other to bits. Of women who are stereotypes and a villain who seems to be Cruella De Vil if she had a sex change. But it's entertaining, it does it's one thing well and is filled to the brim with a damn fine group of acting talents, creating one of the best ensemble casts of recent memory. Except for Emma Stone. Still not a fan of Emma Stone. Sorry.

Rating: ****



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