WE HAVE seen a good handful of Mickey Cohens over the years, from recent video game LA Noire, the movie LA Confidential and an Oscar-nominated turn by Harvey Keitel in Bugsy.
Gangster Squad (15)
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Running time: 113 minutes
Star rating: * *
Now it’s Sean Penn’s turn to layer on the noseputty and head up the bad guys for Gangster Squad, a movie that plays out like the most basic of 1950s cop shows, except with a double dose of ultra violence.
In the 1940s, Cohen tries to make Los Angeles his turf for gaming and prostitution, eventually prompting a highly fictionalised response to his operations by Josh Brolin’s LAPD man John O’Mara, who puts together an undercover “Gangster Squad” to undermine and extinguish Cohen’s businesses. O’Mara’s pregnant wife Connie (Mireille Enos) helps him put together his team of incorruptibles – a twist which got my attention, until it became clear that Connie’s real job was to emphasise the contrast between father-to-be O’Mara and Cohen, who is only surrounded by his wide-lapelled “family” of thugs.
It turns out that Connie is also a big fan of Dragnet, since her choices are all ancient archetypes. There’s an old timer who is still a sharp-shooter (Robert Patrick) and his Hispanic sidekick (Michael Peña). The gadgets genius is played by Giovanni Ribisi, telegraphed by a pair of specs and a sad dad wardrobe. A black beat cop (Anthony Mackie) is recruited in a jazz club, and although he’s plenty good looking, it looks like all the sex scenes have been reserved for Ryan Gosling as the cocky cool one, who falls for Cohen’s moll (Emma Stone). Together they barely add up to one interesting personality, although O’Mara does boast that he learnt about fighting crime in World War 2, and quotes from Edmund Burke’s greatest hits.
Gangster Squad, helmed by Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer has been a troubled production: originally it was set to be released last year, but in the aftermath of the Aurora shooting in July, the film was pulled and its cinema massacre setpiece (shown in the original trailer) has now been replaced by a new Chinatown confrontation. This attentiveness to sensitivities is laudable but that doesn’t save Gangster Squad, a film which aspires to be hard-boiled but is really just half-baked. There are plenty of shootouts, slashings and the occasional bloody amputation, but little variety or thought to the script. Whenever a kingpin appears to shrug off some major cock-up in his empire, surely any self-respecting henchman realises this is his cue to flee, or at least pack a bulletproof vest? Not if you are a henchman in Gangster Squad. And while Penn attempts to bully his way through the film, his Cohen has none of internal subtleties of, say, Robert De Niro in The Untouchables.
This is sloppy filmmaking, and we don’t like failure in this outfit. Sure, I know how it is. These things happen. Now pass me the knuckledusters. «
On general release from Friday