Blu-ray Review: Star-Studded ‘Gangster Squad’ Bores with Recycled Tropes

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CHICAGO – Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad” is a steak devoid of juice. It has all the trappings of an effortlessly enjoyable genre exercise, but it doesn’t bring a single fresh idea to the table. It goes through the usual motions of a standard gangster picture while giving each overqualified member of its ensemble exactly one note to play. And they’re all exceedingly familiar notes, conveying a tune so familiar even Sam would refuse to play it again.

Josh Brolin plays a square-jawed officer with a perpetually concerned wife. Ryan Gosling plays a suave ladykiller (god what a stretch) who falls for a femme fatale (Emma Stone, looking like a kid playing dress-up). Nick Nolte wheezes and grunts. Giovanni Ribisi wears nerdy glasses, signaling that his character’s fade-out will arrive long before the final one. Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña supply different shades of skin color and little else. What a colossal waste of talent. Blu-ray Rating: 1.5/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 1.5/5.0

The plum role, it would seem, is the one inhabited by Sean Penn, looking like a grotesque lowlife from Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy.” I expected his character to have a name like Wrinkles McNoseman, but nope, Penn is indeed supposed to be playing real-life gangster Mickey Cohen, who ruled LA until the aforementioned band of vigilantes took him to town. Penn brings Pacino-esque fire to each appearance, but it soon becomes clear that all the two-time Oscar-winner will be asked to do is rant and snarl and floss the scenery out of his teeth. He makes De Niro’s Capone in “The Untouchables” look as three-dimensional as Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito in “GoodFellas.” The workmanlike script by Will Beall hits all the expected story beats without adding any distinctive flourishes, while Alan Baumgarten’s editing moves at a tight clip with the studio-approved goal of keeping the story moving, leaving any shred of humanity on the cutting room floor. A scene where an innocent shoeshiner falls victim to mobster gunfire should be heartbreaking, but it registers as little more than a generic plot point providing Gosling with an opportunity for his eyes to moisten.

Gangster Squad was released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 23rd, 2013.
Gangster Squad was released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 23rd, 2013.
Photo credit: Warner Home Video

Some studio executives will undoubtedly blame “Gangster Squad”’s box office failure to be the result of excessive reshoots spurred by the Colorado tragedy last summer. A key sequence where mobsters spray bullets through a film screen at a captive audience was cut from the would-be summer blockbuster after horrifying violence engulfed a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Its release date was also switched to the following January, though no delay on the release calendar can make the film’s interminable assault of cartoonish gunplay more palatable. Since the movie has nothing to say and no style or personality to speak of, it succeeds solely as expensive NRA porn before half-heartedly passing itself off as a tribute to the sacrifice made by cops and vigilantes who put everything on the line for the greater good. Too bad the filmmakers felt unmoved to take any such risk.

“Gangster Squad” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.4:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, Spanish and French audio tracks, and is available in a Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet combo pack. Extras include a director commentary track, various interviews with the children of real-life Gangster Squad members and a 46-minute documentary on Cohen that illustrates just how many liberties Fleischer’s film actually took. Not only does Cohen look absolutely nothing like Penn in the film, but his downfall came as a result of tax evasion charges. And the Gangster Squad didn’t even fire their tommy guns. They just carried them around. This is a rare instance in which the special features are so thorough, they make the film look even worse.

‘Gangster Squad’ is released by Warner Home Video and stars Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña. It was written by Will Beall and directed by Ruben Fleischer. It was released on April 23rd, 2013. It is rated R. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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