The Good, the Bad, and the Weird: “Gangster Squad”


In the second installment of my GBW column, I look at a film that held great promise, but crashed and burned.

The Good, the Bad, and the Weird: Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad” (2013)

When I was about 11, my brother, who was six years older, did me a solid by renting the movie “Mobsters” at a long-forgotten video store called Movies Plus. (This was the place that really kicked off my cinematic education, unknowingly. They had a deal — five movies for five days for five bucks — that took me through several summers.) I recall being excited by the cast, which included Christian Slater and Richard Grieco (!), and also thinking the trailer, which I likely saw on E!’s “Coming Attractions,” looked fantastic.

Was the film fantastic? Noooo. Although at the time, I quite liked it.

I had not thought of “Mobsters” in a long time, until I read Jeff Shannon’s review of the flop “Gangster Squad” before finally catching up with it on DVD: “Here’’ a telling comparison: I recently happened upon a showing of ‘Mobsters,’ the Christian Slater vehicle that’s been a cable-TV staple since its release in 1991. Packed with B- and C-list costars like Richard Greico and Costas Mandylor, it’s still a marginally better film than ‘Gangster Squad,’ and that’s faint praise indeed.

I think Jeff Shannon is correct, sadly. On paper, it all looked so promising: A great cast, including Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, and Emma Stone. A flashy trailer. The gangster milieu.

But there was also reason to worry. The director, Ruben Fleischer, had a 50-50 track record — the fun “Zombieland” and the awful “30 Minutes or Less.” And the whole LA-fifties-gangster thing seemed a little played out. Then came Aurora, a re-edit, and a January release date shift. The result was a movie that barely qualifies for two stars out of four.

The Good:

  • The costumes were nice?
  • Okay, the costumes were nice, but there are a few other bright spots, mostly due to the casting. It’s nice to see Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, and the typically gruff Robert Patrick in support; Mackie, especially, makes the most of a small role.
  • Also related to casting: Josh Brolin deserves starring roles, and he got one, here. But there is far more to look forward to from him, including a starring role in Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day.

The Bad:

  • Everything else.
  • Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are ludicrously underused. Why did Gosling even take this part? It’s a nothing role, really, and he coasts through it. He’s become one of my favorite actors, truly, so seeing him look dull, and play dull, is, well, dull. Sean Penn, too, is utterly forgettable, playing Mickey Cohen as a noisy lump with an overdone, Big Boy Caprice-style accent (“Here comes Sant-y Claus!”)
  • It’s boring, and that is its most crucial sin. The gunfights are endless, the violence ugly, the look, flashy but drab. It is a waste of time, money, and talent.

The Weird

  • It felt odd to see Nick Nolte in the cast, since “Gangster” in some ways brings back memories of a meh, if better, film in which he starred, “Mulholland Falls.”
  • Emma Stone is a wonderful actress, but I’m not sure she’s right for the femme fatale. For she and Gosling, “Gangster Squad” will be a forgotten blip on the resume. In fact, writing this kind of makes me want to go watch them in the wonderful, completely enjoyable “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

Coming soon: Thoughts on “Behind the Candelabra,” “Frances Ha,” and more

EMMA STONE as Grace Faraday and RYAN GOSLING as Sgt. Jerry Wooters in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “GANGSTER SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Wilson Webb

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