Gangster Squad

26 Jan


Synopsis: “Los Angeles, 1949: A secret crew of police officers led by two determined sergeants work together in an effort to take down the ruthless mob king Mickey Cohen who runs the city.” (Rated R; 1 hour 53 minutes)

This movie has everything going for it:

Based on a true story about a notorious Jewish gangster

-A kick-ass cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn and Emma Stone

-Great costumes and overall visual aesthetic to give a convincing setting of LA in the late 40’s

So what the heck made it such a pile of dreck?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll skip ahead and tell you that it’s not boring, and both Adi and I had fun watching it, but it was a pile of garbage due to the hokiest script in ages, and a director who seemed to not mind that the character development made no sense and were borderline laughable.

How do I write this without giving away spoilers as I’ve promised to never do???
Okay, for one thing let’s start with the dialogue. Every…single…line uttered in this movie sounds like it’s supposed to be this amazingly clever barb like we’re watching the newest great film noir. Just to throw out a random example, at one point Mickey Cohen (played by Sean Penn) says, “A cop that’s not for sale is like a dog that’s got rabies. There’s no fixing him, so he’s gotta die”. And that’s actually one of the better lines. Imagine an ENTIRE movie of dialogue like that, it’s meant to be clever but instead it starts to sound more like The Naked Gun, where one of my favorite Frank Drebin lines was, “Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes!” The difference is, that was brilliant and MEANT to be funny, this was a movie that didn’t realize it was making fun of itself throughout.

And not only was the dialogue over-the-top ridiculous, but the plot and character development was crazy. Early in the movie Josh Brolin’s character is tasked with getting together a top-secret crew to go after the mobster Mickey Cohen. Crucial to get the right people for the job, and super important! So what happens? His wife at home tells him that the people he’s choosing are dumb choices and literally one by one by one chooses each and every person for him by going through their files. Basically, he’s an idiot, and she’s apparently an amazing cop herself, except she’s not. Huh? No, it makes no sense. And then when they actually gather each individual member who’s perfectly chosen for one reason or another, someone else sees them, wasn’t part of the carefully chosen crew, and says he wants to join. Okay, you’re in too – that was easy after all! 🙂

I recently made similar points about Jack Reacher, which also made a strange attempt at some film noir dialogue, the difference is that didn’t do it with EVERY line, and it also was simply better overall, in every way.

I hope I’m getting my point across, if not let’s give you another example of how bad this was: Mickey Cohen is Jewish, in the first scene of the movie when Sean Penn opens his mouth you hear this Eastern European Jewish accent, or something like that. It’s interesting, I’m immediately thinking that it’ll be cool hearing a guy who sounds like he runs a butcher shop who’s a Jew and super evil in post WWII Los Angeles. Then, 20 seconds later, he has a thick American accent, Chicago I believe, and for most of the movie THAT’S how he speaks, though every now and then you hear his Jewish immigrant accent again. Make up your mind Sean Penn, I mean if you were talented enough to single-handedly figure out that we shouldn’t be in Iraq on your brilliant “fact-finding mission”, you should be able to decide on a single accent in a movie. Not even talking about someone’s accent which slips every now and then, I’m talking about full on switch from one to the other.

I said to Adi that I NEED to know who directed and wrote this garbage, because I had to imagine it was people who have only done previous garbage, or their first movie. I was only partly correct. The writer has only written for TV, and so his first big screen attempt gets a huge F, though I noticed on IMDb that he’s credited for the upcoming Lethal Weapon 5, maybe he’ll make me like Mel Gibson again if he writes him so badly that I actually laugh at him?

But the big shocker was the director, Ruben Fleischer not only has made previous movies, but ones I LOVE. He directed Zombieland, one of the funniest and most clever movies of 2009! He also made 30 Minutes or Less, a better than average little action-comedy. I actually think he’s shown some real talent, good range for comedy and action, so I don’t know how he read this script and decided it was worth making. Though I will say that it’s possible that he took the laughable script and still managed to direct some fun action and some intentionally funny moments, but for the most part the laughter was at the movie, not with it. I literally laughed at a scene that was supposed to be a sad moment, and I’m a sucker for those scenes even when predictable.

I think most people who see this will have a good time overall as we did, but I just can’t imagine many people thinking it’s actually anything more than a really guilty pleasure.

The movie was better than The Black Dahlia, another movie about cops from the same era that simply suffered the worst fate of movies, it was boring (this never was in spite of and because of its silliness). It was much, much, MUCH worse than The Untouchables, a great movie about cops fighting another gangster from that era. Duh.

Quality Rating: D+ (I was gonna give it a C just for its good costumes and imagery but Adi convinced me that even that was too generous given the rest)

Boaz Rating: B+ (Had I seen this with a crowd that was laughing along with me I’d actually give it an even higher rating for fun, but for some reason the audience seemed into it, going to prove that even I am not always the easiest audience to please)


4 Responses to “Gangster Squad”

  1. Shlomo Abraham January 27, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    I would have given it a 4 for both. They did a great job with the cartoonish-noir setting. I thought Josh Brolin was great, even if the rest phoned it in. Script and plot was laughable, which is pretty remarkable considering it was inspired by the emanations of the penumbra of a true story.


  2. boazconstrictor January 27, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    Josh Brolin was great, but in a different movie this past year – Men in Black III. In this movie he was fine, everyone was fine, but their material was such a joke you couldn’t take it seriously. But all in all you’re agreeing with me.


  3. zralston January 28, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    Interesting that both of the films you compared it against (Black Dahlia and The Untouchables) are by Brian DePalma. Two questions — what do you think of DePalma in general? (He’s one of my favorite living filmmakers: Blow Out, Carlito’s Way, Mission: Impossible, and Femme Fatale are among the best American films in the past 35 years) Also, did anything in Gangster Squad (which I haven’t seen) try to be DePalma-esque? Fleischer’s previous two films (which you mentioned, Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less) had nothing in them that made me think of BDP.


    • boazconstrictor January 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      That’s hilarious because it was an unintentional comparison other than the genre, didn’t remember at the time that Dahlia was DePalma. I haven’t seen enough of his work to know my overall view, I vaguely remember loving the opening sexy scene of Femme Fatale but not much else, and always knew I had to see Blow Out. But I love The Untouchables, and really like Carlito’s Way and Mission Impossible. He’s not on my radar as a favorite director or anything.
      And no, Gangster Squad wasn’t in any way like one of his movies other than the storyline and setting, the movie itself was kind of goofy, more like his other movies, but didn’t work like they did.


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