There is a genre of a movie so small that it doesn’t even have a name. In fact, it consists of only two movies, which I’m not even sure makes it worthy of being called a genre.
These two movies in question are “Tombstone” and “The Untouchables.” What makes them kindred spirits is they are both packed to the gills with style, crackling dialogue, memorable performances, and general macho awesomeness while at the same time being completely ridiculous and indefensible.
They are simultaneously fantastic and terrible to such a balanced degree that no other movie has ever really come close to achieving this cinematic feat.
I say all this because the best that the new movie “Gangster Squad” could ever hope for would be admittance into this dubious genre, but unfortunately, there’s just not enough fantastic to negate all the terrible going on in this movie.
Clearly “Gangster Squad” most closely emulates “The Untouchables” as it, too, is the bloody saga of a ragtag group of lawmen taking on a powerful gangster.
Also like “The Untouchables,” “Gangster Squad” is based on actual events. But when it comes to historical accuracy, it makes “The Untouchables” look like a Ken Burns documentary.
Set in post-World War II Los Angeles, the movie depicts the LAPD’s attempts to bring down the criminal empire of Mickey Cohen (played here without a trace of a sense of humor by Sean Penn, mostly because I’m not sure he has one).
Josh Brolin plays Sgt. John O’Mara, a no-nonsense cop who is given the task by the chief of police (Nick Nolte) to assemble, on the sly, a group of clean cops to bust up the infrastructure of Cohen’s syndicate.
O’Mara and his dutiful, pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos), pour-over personnel files and come up with a crew consisting of the streetwise African American (Anthony Mackie), the brainy tech-specialist (Giovanni Ribisi) the mustachioed, sharp-shooting old-timer (Robert Patrick) and his Latino sidekick (Michael Pena).
The last to reluctantly join the squad is Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling, Hollywood’s reigning coolest actor), a world-weary playboy who signs on only after a tragic shooting and some romantic entanglements with Cohen’s number-one broad, Grace (a woefully underused Emma Stone, for whom my nerd-boy crush remains undying).
As you would expect, shootouts are had, jaws are socked, ultimatums are issued, Packards are exploded and somewhere Raymond Chandler rolls over in his grave.
“Gangster Squad” was directed by Ruben Fleischer, who made an impressive debut with “Zombieland,” and I was one of the few who enjoyed his follow-up “30 Minutes or Less.” Fleischer has proven he can pull off high-concept comedy with flair and panache, but here struggles without the laughs to fall back on.
This movie is actually pretty well cast, with the exception of Penn who is way too serious for a flick like this. Brolin and Gosling are at the top of their games, both great actors who fully understand the tone of the film they are in.
There is plenty of style to be found here, but not enough greatness to cancel out all those eye rolls. Where are the great speeches? (“That’s the Chicago way! That’s the way you get Capone!”) Where are the gonzo performances? (see: De Niro, Robert and Kilmer, Val) Where are the thrilling climaxes blatantly ripped off from classic silent films like “Battleship Potemkin”? (Sorry, DePalma, I had to do it).
Unfortunately no matter how hard it tries, “Gangster Squad” will never be our huckleberry.
“Gangster Squad” is rated R for strong violence and language.