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'Gangster Squad' Review: Soulless Mobster Mash Misses the Mark

'Gangster Squad' Review: Soulless Mobster Mash Misses the Mark


January slouches on with the release of “Gangster Squad,” a bloody revision of the old Warner Bros. crime films of the 1930s. The story begins in 1949 in Los Angeles, a city thick with vice and corruption, where snarling mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is determined to take over the town. Cohen owns any number of cops and judges, and his dope and prostitution rackets are thus untouchable.

This doesn’t sit well with one straight-arrow sergeant, John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a square-jawed war vet with an inflamed sense of justice and a respect for due process that’s barely vestigial. These qualities appeal to new police chief William Parker (Nick Nolte), who directs O’Mara to assemble a squad of fellow two-fisted idealists that will operate outside the law, smash Cohen’s operations, and send him packing.

In a rather contemporary manner, O’Mara recruits one black cop (Anthony Mackie), one Hispanic (Michael Peña), one colorful old coot (Robert Patrick), and one youngish tech nerd (Giovanni Ribisi). More centrally, he brings in a laid-back smoothie named Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who unwisely launches an affair with Cohen’s moll, a vision in purple satin and crimson lipstick named Grace Faraday. Grace is played by Emma Stone, and it’s hard not to notice that, at age 24, she’s really too young to be a sayer of lines like “Where have you been all my miserable life?” But this is only one of the movie’s problems. (Another is that director Ruben Fleischer, who previously gave us the wonderful “Zombieland,” might be more at home with comedy than with this sort of violent genre exercise.)

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