‘Gangster Squad’: The Reviews Are In!

Critics like the A-list stars but think the noir throwback gives them little to work with.

Gangster Squad” has the makings of a must-see movie. It boasts the cool factor of being a gangster movie set in the ’40s, it’s inspired by a real-life story, and it features an A-list ensemble including Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Mireille Enos.

Despite those trappings, the Ruben Fleischer-directed crime drama has hit a few roadblocks, namely a release-date change due to reshoots and edits made in lieu of the tragic theater shooting in Colorado last summer. Also, the critical masses have not fully embraced the film, citing its style over substance, which has led to a “rotten” consensus over at Rotten Tomatoes.

Still, the overwhelming appeal of Gosling playing a cool cop, not a gangster as he assured us recently, will bring the film some business. So settle in as we investigate the “Gangster Squad” reviews:

The Story
” ‘Gangster Squad’ is a heavily fictionalized account of longtime LAPD chief William H. Parker’s campaign to prevent Mickey Cohen and other mobsters with East Coast roots from gaining power in Los Angeles. While the movie plays fast and loose with the facts about Cohen and Parker in all kinds of ways, it accurately portrays Parker (played by Nick Nolte in the film) as urging his favored cops to go beyond the law into vigilantism when they deemed it necessary. Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin), Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling) and the other untouchables of the ‘gangster squad’ are of course presented as heroes, who embark on an extralegal campaign of surveillance, brutality and murder to save their city during an unprecedented emergency.” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com

The Performances
“Penn seems to be having fun as the satanic Cohen — with this being the kind of part that calls for him to say things like ‘they know the drill’ before having his lackeys use a power drill on someone’s skull. … The good guys don’t fare quite as well — despite the fact that the talent on display is top notch. Blame it on cardboard, two-dimensional characters. Josh Brolin plays the square-jawed hero like Dick Tracy crossed with Dirty Harry, but rather than being badass, he comes off bland. Ryan Gosling, as the squad’s ladies’ man, tries hard to make his character a little different, adopting a soft-spoken way of talking that sounds nicely noir. But still, he doesn’t get much to do other than look handsome, and occasionally shoot someone. Emma Stone plays the typical doe-eyed gangster’s moll, with a heart of gold — and while her chemistry with Gosling is still good (as it was in “Crazy, Stupid Love”), and she looks terrific, it can’t overcome the fact that the script gives her absolutely nothing to work with. The rest of the squad — Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, and Robert Patrick, as a six-gun toting, old-timey cowboy cop — all seem game and do their best, but again they’re let down by the absolute predictability of the plot.” — Chris Bumbray, JoBlo.com

The Risky Reality of Real-life Elements
“Cohen is a real figure in the lurid annals of the Southern California underworld, and the tale of his rise and fall is ripe with nasty potential. The old-time Los Angeles of corrupt cops, conniving villains and melancholy sexpots may be familiar pop-culture territory — it’s ‘Chinatown,’ Jake, and also ‘L.A. Confidential,’ ‘Devil With a Blue Dress’ and the collected works of James Ellroy — but it is also a storehouse of durably knotty themes. In the movie-fed, noir-tinged American imagination, this is a city where sex, power, money and celebrity entwine and collide, where social dysfunction and psychological disorder fester amid the stucco and the jacaranda. None of which seems to interest Ruben Fleischer, the director of ‘Gangster Squad,’ a barrage of action sequences as empty as a spent shell casing. His first feature, ‘Zombieland,’ was a half-witty genre parody. This one might be described as genre zombie-ism: the hysterical, brainless animation of dead clichés reduced to purposeless, compulsive killing. Too self-serious to succeed as pastiche, it has no reason for being beyond the parasitic urge to feed on the memories of other, better movies.” — A.O. Scott, The New York Times

The Final Word
“Do not expect much from ‘Gangster Squad.’ This is not ‘LA Confidential 2.’ This is not ‘LA Noire: The Movie.’ This is not a hard-hitting film. This is not a movie with much to say. ‘Gangster Squad’ is a big cartoon, a pulpy movie made by people who only know pulp from reading about it in movie reviews. It’s the grim n’ gritty version of ‘Dick Tracy.’ And if you approach it like that, you’ll enjoy the movie just fine.” — Devin Faraci, Badass Digest

Check out everything we’ve got on “Gangster Squad.”