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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gangster Squad Movie Review

It's January, so you know what that means - no great new releases for a long stretch. In the meantime, we can amuse ourselves with things like "Gangster Squad", which is campy, corny and more fun than it ought to be. It's not "Goodfellas", but what did you expect in the post-Oscar-movie dumping season?

Set in Los Angeles circa 1949, "Gangster Squad" is a cartoonish look at a time when wiseguys ran the city and it was dealing with even more corruption than usual. Leading the pack is mob man Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, hamming it up), who has come from Chicago to take over, get richer and sleep with whoever he wants (read: Emma Stone). There isn't much more plot than that, except that a small division of the LAPD, the Gangster Squad, is secretly plotting to bring the bad guys down. Gee, I wonder if they do.

The film is based on reporter Paul Lieberman's book "Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles", a work of nonfiction. But this seems less like a historical retelling than a shoot-em-up video game, with blood splattering across the room. It's a silly good time though, if lacking in the depth department. Penn walks around with thick makeup caked on his face, spewing lines like, "When I came out here, L.A. was nothin'. Back east I was a gangster. Out here, I'm God." And Ryan Gosling, as an earnest cop, reignites the sparks he had with Stone from "Crazy, Stupid, Love" while speaking in a high-decibel voice. "What's your racket, handsome?" someone asks him.

There is a lot of violence in "Gangster Squad," but nothing remotely real or scary under Ruben Fleischer's direction, so it's by no means hard to watch. (He did "Zombieland" prior, if that's a clue.) Will Beall's funny, cheesy script suggests he loves noir but also loves parodying it; think Guy Noir from "A Prairie Home Companion". If you don't take this movie too seriously, you just might enjoy yourself.

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