Gangster Squad tried to kick off the 2013 year in cinema with a bang. Unfortunately, the plan backfired, and what could have been a profit-grabbing heist was nothing more than a malicious misdemeanor.
The almost-suave and slick gangster film originally aimed for release in summer 2012, but was postponed due to similarities between the Aurora shooting and certain sequences of the film. Sadly the summer release would have suited the film much better; 2012’s summer of movies wasn’t exactly the highlight of the year, and Gangster Squad could have snuck by as a middling option in comparison to other Hollywood detritus. Instead, it lead January to a disappointing beginning. We can only hope it’s not an omen for the rest of the year. (Rather we should hope 2013 follows the trend set by that other movie about 0s and 30s in the dark, or something.)
Not even the film’s star studded cast could save the film from its overbearing blandness. Sean Penn plays Los Angeles mafia master Mickey Cohen, who plans to expand his underground crime organization… somehow. It was never really made explicitly clear. All we know is that he has to be stopped, and Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is the only guy brave enough to try.
O’mara assembles a ‘colorful’ squad of warriors to help him out, consisting of a stellar list of respectable names (including Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, and the beloved Ryan Gosling), a cast of characters the script wants us to care about but never gives us any solid reason to. Nick Nolte, after being credited as one of the main stars, shows up for a scene or two as Chief of Police Bill Parker, but who cares how short his appearance is, as long as he’s a big, marketable name, right?
The visuals are appealing, but exactly how impressive are vaguely pleasing aesthetics in 2013 cinema? Considering they were the only aspect of the film that blipped anywhere higher than ‘decent’ on my radar, I do not believe the early 1900s inspired Los Angeles was enough to satisfy a full movie ticket price. It’s closer to something you’d rent on a lazy day (as long as your Netflix subscription covered the price, that is).
Perhaps director Ruben Fleischer was smart to nab up Emma Stone to provide further pleasing visuals. It was even smarter to grab her former partner in crime Gosling after the two were originally paired in 2011 romcom Crazy, Stupid, Love. Unsurprisingly and disappointingly, the two were not able to live up to their initial chemistry, but through no fault of their own. The actors fought the best they could against their vehement adversary, the script. Audiences are spoiled near the beginning, in a scene reminiscent of the stars’ previous film to the point of being a blatant reference (or, perhaps, rip-off), where Stone and Gosling are allowed to play off snappy dialogue and each other’s overflowing charisma. The opportunity is brief and misleading toward the rest of the film, however.
After that scene, nothing else in the film attempts to be clever or charismatic, or anything else the actors are capable of. It just happens. The rest of the picture strolls by with an occasional half-hearted “Woo, I’m a movie!” before settling for eternal decency. Maybe we’ve just been spoiled by award winning movie season. After all, the film’s original strategy was to release before the actual good stuff came out, to avoid such comparisons.
With this cleverness foiled, the film solely relied on its last resort, the Gosling-Stone dynamic. In all honestly, they’re the only reason I went. I fell for the goon’s trap, and in exchange for a drowsy (but undeniably well-lit) flick, my wallet was mugged. I can’t help feeling robbed.
But, you know. Ryan Gosling. Come on.