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New Release Review - Gangster Squad

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Mireille Enos, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Frank Grillo, Michael Pena

Cartoonish recreation of the L.A.P.D's war on gangster Mickey Cohen during the forties.

In 1949, Los Angeles finds itself under siege from relocated East Coast gangster Cohen (Penn). To combat him, disgruntled police chief Parker (Nolte) tasks tough Sargent O'Mara (Brolin) with forming a small squad to work off the books, employing violent tactics unavailable to the regular police force. On the advice of his wife (Enos), O'Mara recruits a bunch of mavericks who he feels capable of carrying out the dirty work required. Cohen, however, proves a formidable adversary.
Marketed as 'The Untouchables' for the 'Avengers' generation, 'Unwatchable' would be a more apt title for Fleischer's derivative 'Seven Samurai' update. It may be distributed by Warners, but 'Gangster Squad' has more in common with the 'Naked Gun' series than the classic crime pictures the studio made its name on. Every nonsensical line of showy dialogue seems designed to make the audience cringe, with eye-rolling statements like "The war's over John", "There are two things a man can't take back; the bullets from his gun and the words from his mouth" and this, from Penn while enjoying a meal, "I like eating with one fork, you can't make any wrong decisions". After an hour of this I wished I had brought a pen to the screening, not to take notes but to poke my eardrums out with.
If Fleischer's aim was to pack as many cliches as possible into 117 minutes, he's succeeded. We get the cop's wife (pregnant of course) who wants him to leave the force. There's a shoe-shine boy who doubles as an informant, instantly bringing to mind 'Police Squad'. Fleischer even gives us a head drilling which immediately cuts to a shot of a raw burger slapped down on a grill. Penn seems in tune with Fleischer's over the top spoof take on the material, giving a ridiculously scenery chewing performance. The "squad" themselves are paper-thin characters, based on their skills more than anything else, though Mackie and Pena don't seem to contribute anything save for some market-increasing diversity. Pena showed how likable an actor he is in the under-rated 'The Lucky Ones' yet now only seems to be cast as "the Hispanic sidekick".
Visually, the movie tries valiantly to make up for the short-comings of its script. The movie utilizes 'Cotton Club' style sets which look magnificent and allow Fleischer to orchestrate some impressive camera moves. Cinematographer Dion Beebe, who cut his digital photography teeth working for Michael Mann, tries his best but is limited by the restrictions of the digital format. Still shots look beautiful but whenever any camera movement is required the movie starts to look like one of those true crime reconstruction TV shows. Digital video just can't capture movement in the naturally fluid way film can but I guess we just have to grin and bear it. It's not like Hollywood actually cares what its audience thinks.
4/10
Bullet to the Head (2012) on IMDb 7.1/10



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