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The Independent Critic

Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick
Ruben Fleischer
Paul Lieberman (Book), Will Beall
Rated R
113 Mins.
Warner Brothers
The only extra on the DVD release will be a Tough Guys with Style featurette, and an UltraViolet digital copy. The Blu-ray/DVD Combo release will also include a commentary with Director Ruben Fleischer, deleted scenes, and the following additional features ("The Gangland Files", "The Set-Up", "The Real Story", "James Brolin on O'Mara", "One Continous Long Shot", "Fashion of the 40s", "Ryan & Emma Reunited", "Emma Stone on Grace", "The Real Mickey Cohen", "Ryan Gosling on Wooters", "The Real Gangster Squad", "The Real Locations", "Nick Nolte on Chief Parker", "Inside Slapsy Maxie's", "Ryan & Emma on the Set", "Bringing Back Gangsters", "Park Plaza", "Then and Now Locations", "Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen", "Tough Guys with Style").

 "Gangster Squad" a Missed Opportunity 
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It's easy to understand why such a star-studded cast signed on for director Ruben Fleischer's follow-up to the somewhat surprise of a hit Zombieland.

This has got to be incredibly disappointing. In fact, I couldn't help but think about the major fuss that Sean Pen threw when Terence Malick's Tree of Life was making its rounds and everyone was trying to figure out "What the heck?" to make of it. Penn joined the parade of naysayers by openly questioning Malick's directorial techniques and the complete lack of narrative structure in the film.

Well Sean, here's some narrative structure for you. How does it feel now?

Gangster Squad makes sense, but who cares? Said to be inspired by true events, Gangster Squad is an over-the-top pulpy film that absolutely nails it with production design but otherwise is not much more than a showcase for a bunch of Hollywood's best performers slumming their way through what must've quickly seemed like a waste of time given the lack of spirit and commitment in the vast majority of the performances here. Strangely enough, the true exception is Penn himself. Penn invigorates the film with a blustery and inspired performance that practically makes the entire thing worth watching just to watch him.

The film is said to be inspired by a real life story set in the 1940's in which a small group of secret L.A. cops went underground and off the record in taking on mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who pretty much owned the town in the 1940's. Given an off-the-record green light by the police chief (Nick Nolte), Josh Brolin plays a police sergeant who assembles a crew that includes a pretty boy (Ryan Gosling), an electronics guru (Giovanni Ribisi), and a couple others (Michael Pena and Robert Patrick) to round out the crew.

You may recall that Gangster Squad was held up and re-edited to knock out a scene involving a movie theater massacre given that the film was due to open just shortly after the Aurora massacre. While we'd probably all like to pretend that the studio's just made a major good-hearted decision, they more likely just figured that what little chance the film had at decent box-office was going down the drain if it got publicity for exploiting the Aurora tragedy.

The truth is that Warner Brothers no doubt knew that they had a mediocre film at best or, conscience or not, they'd have opened the film during awards season.

That's just the way it works.

There's no question that I will see worse films this year, but it's hard not to be disappointed with a film that possesses so much talent that leads to such a trivial result. For all its style, Gangster Squad is almost painfully devoid of anything resembling substance. As great as Gosling can be, and he's one of my favorite young actors, he's more caricature than character here and his scenes with Emma Stone, as his love interest and Cohen's mistress, lack the sizzle that could have really helped this film fly. In fact, only Penn and Brolin possess any real sense of spark at all. Unfortunately, it's far too little to help a film that looks like the 40's, plays like The Untouchables and is so relentlessly loud and violent that you'll be ready for it to end long before the closing credits roll.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic