Gangster Squad pulls its punches [Home Video Review]

GangsterSquad1Title: Gangster Squad

Edition: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet // MPAA Rating: R // Directed by: Ruben Fleischer // Written by: Will Beall // Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña // Studio: Warner Bros.

Film Rating: ★★½☆☆

Blu-ray Rating: ★★½☆☆

Review by: Bill Jones

The Film

It’s unfortunate that, in retrospect, Gangster Squad will mostly be remembered as the film that had to pull a scene originally teased in its theatrical trailer — in which a group of gunmen cut through the screen of a theater with tommy guns — after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. But it is mostly the fault of the film itself that it won’t be remember for much more.

Gangster Squad takes viewers back to 1949 Los Angeles, when mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) rules the streets and corruption makes him nigh untouchable. That is until Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) forms a secret group of LAPD officers — anchored by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) — to fight back against Cohen the way they can, not as cops looking to make an arrest but as a gangster squad hell-bent on making it hard for Cohen to do business in LA.

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But it’s not the plot of Gangster Squad that’s at issue. The issue pops up almost immediately, when we’re learning what type of ruthless bastard Cohen can be, as we see him pull a man apart with chains and leave him to be eaten by coyotes. It’s supposed to be gruesome, something that turns our stomachs, but instead, it’s all so ridiculous it’s almost funny, and it’s unclear whether or not Gangster Squad is on the joke.

That’s how it goes throughout. There seem to be times when director Ruben Fleischer (30 Minutes or Less, Zombieland) wants us to view Gangster Squad as a serious drama, a film that pays tribute to a bygone era, when men were men, women were simply stunning and stylish mobsters were waiting to be put in their place. But at other times, it feels like a parody of itself, even when it’s not giving tongue-and-cheek nods to the audience.

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And the All-Star cast of Gangster Squad works against it, in this respect. Brolin seems almost cartoonishly heroic, rather than a character in which we can invest. Penn seems out of place in his role as a neurotic villain, save for a few explosive moments. And Gosling and Emma Stone have great chemistry, but their characters never seem to truly grow, despite the plot telling us they have come to certain realizations.

To cap it all off, Gangster Squad has an impressive go at costumes and set designs, but the film’s glossy visuals just don’t seem to fit the tone. Everything just feels superficial. And that’s ultimately what Gangster Squad leaves us with — some mindless entertainment that runs through the motions of what we expect from a gangster film but offers nothing that will leave a lasting impression.

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The Blu-ray

The Gangster Squad Blu-ray pack features an audio commentary by Fleischer, a “Gangland Files” option that offers pictures-in-picture info and focus points, the focus points on their own, deleted scenes, an installment of “Rogues Gallery” featuring Mickey Cohen, and locations and style featurettes.

It’s a decent package, but the “Rogues Gallery” installment is the most informative of the bunch, and it feels dated. The commentary offers little of interest, and the rest feels like a collection of run-of-the-mill extras. So while the package — which is rounded out by DVD and Digital copies — has some weight, it lacks any real punch.

For more info, http://gangstersquad.warnerbros.com

Bill Jones Ink received a copy of the Blu-ray courtesy of the studio for review purposes.

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