MOVIE REVIEW: Gangster Squad

GANGSTER SQUAD (MA)

Rating 4/10 

Director: Ruben Fleishcher

Stars: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi

The story of a war on crime in 1949 Los Angeles, Gangster Squad is a period piece for which no expense has been spared on the set dressing and production design, yet the story is ludicrous and the performances inconsequential. 

It's as if the endless vintage cars and custom suits should add gravitas - or at least camouflage - to Ruben Fleischer's busy, banal movie.

The best element in Will Beall's screenplay is the idea that O'Mara and his team are World War II veterans who feel betrayed that they fought for freedom and came home to find a despot.

But beyond brief conversations, the theme is never illuminated, and the attention quickly swings to shoot-outs and car chases, interspersed with Cohen proving he was first gangster in Los Angeles to get mediaeval on everyone's ass.

Cohen went down for income-tax evasion, but Gangster Squad doesn't need to be historically accurate. It should, however, give a sense of the time and place, and a better indication of the characters' lives. 

As O'Mara's laconic offsider, Sergeant Jerry Wooters, Ryan Gosling just offers up diffident cockiness and a higher-pitched voice. Emma Stone, as Grace Faraday, Cohen's mistress and Jerry's secret girlfriend, has Lauren Bacall's flipped-over hair and a smidgeon of her provocative defiance; Jerry wonders what her angle is, but the film doesn't provide one. 

You never get a sense of Grace's intimacy with either lover; nor is Penn's fury given a chance to simmer before boiling over.

Fleischer's first feature, 2009's Zombieland, knowingly sent up the zombie genre while celebrating it, but Gangster Squad squarely provides slow-motion gunplay and exploding cars framing the characters as they nonchalantly walk away.

He's not the first filmmaker to be overwhelmed, but Fleischer's overblown skimming could be the most expensive student film ever made.

Gangster Squad is showing now.

smh.com.au

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