I have to believe that if it wasn’t for Josh Brolin and Emma Stone, Warner Bros. would’ve killed, wrapped up and buried Rueben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad right next to Jimmy Hoffa’s scrotum. Not only because it was incredibly unoriginal and kind of corny, but because it’s also capable of undoing all the wonders that The Notebook has done for Ryan Gosling’s career. Let me explain.
Very loosely based on actual events involving cops and mobsters of 1940s Los Angeles, Gangster Squad is the story of a group of misfit cops that are assembled by honest officer of the law, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) – and hand picked by his pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos) – under the notion that they are to disrupt the underground businesses of bloodthirsty kingpin mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). The plan is to run him out of town in order to set an example to other gangsters that organized crime would be as tolerated in Los Angeles as the Rodney King verdict.
But there’s one simple catch, under no circumstances are arrests to be made, due to the fact that even though they’re acting under the direct command of Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte), they’re operating as vigilantes, not officers of the law. What ensued afterwards was a laundry list of clichés, predictability and “WTF” writing. Let me point out a few (SPOILERS!):
· Womanizing playboy police Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) falls in love with Mickey Cohen’s trophy wifey, Grace (Emma “STELLA!” Stone) after meeting her, wooing her, and bedding her all in the same night.
· Sgt. Wooters refuses to join the Gangster Squad, but quickly changes his mind when a shoe shining kid he knows gets gunned down in front of him.
· The only black cop on the squad (Anthony Mackie) is a surgeon with his trusty switchblade.
· Mickey Cohen is an ex-boxer (the movie opens with him punching a punching bag), which you know means he’ll shoot the fair one with someone sooner or later.
· Even though she lives in her own apartment, drives her own car, has no one shadowing her every move, and can basically break-boogie out of town anytime she wants, Grace is really being held against her will as Mickey’s main squeeze. So she drives to his house everyday to check in as his prisoner.
· Before the “big” operation that would shut down Mickey’s business for good, the physically weakest, yet smartest member of the GS is forced to remain in the gang’s hideout to avoid leaving his wife a widow and son a bastard, only to be all alone while he’s strangled to death.
· Instead of outright arresting Mickey Cohen, Sgt. O’Mara shoots the five with Mickey and miraculously outboxes the ex-boxer before putting the cuffs on him.
The only good thing I can say is that whenever Josh Brolin wasn’t carrying the film as the polarizing Sgt. O’Mara, it seemed like Emma Stone was the film’s only saving grace (pun very much intended). Even though she’s built like a No. 2 pencil, Emma Stone oozes sex appeal through her bedroom eyes, and her talent for capturing the essence of the characters she portrays is second to none.
The same can’t be said about Ryan Gosling. Coming across like he took the short yellow bus to school, you almost felt like Gosling was bound to burst into a dance number while singing or something. And don’t get me started on Sean Penn’s depiction of mobster Mickey Cohen – he was damn near comical in his performance. With dreams of running the entire west coast like Pac in the mid ‘90s, Cohen ruled with an iron fist and turned incompetent henchmen and opposing gangsters into BBQ and lunchmeat for the wolves. But it was hard to take him serious with all the over the top temper tantrums and that ridiculous mobster accent.
If Reuben Fleischer’s intention was to unleash the next epic gangster film then he failed. Though a visual candy land, it sours when it comes to actual substance. But Fleischer can’t take full blame as the films writer’s, Will Beall and Paul Lieberman, didn’t do him any favors by instilling a dialogue deemed fit for an episode of Car 54, Where Are You?
Not to mention a screenplay that was riddled with elements from your favorite gangster flicks. Part Sin City, part Dick Tracy, with a sprinkle of Grease, a dash of The Untouchables, and the slightest pinch of L.A. Confidential, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Gangster Squad was a Frankenstein of pop-culture and police films that stumbled out the gate and ultimately came apart at the seams.