When you put Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Josh Brolin together in one film, expectations are going to run rampant. But with expectations so high and a stellar cast so wasted, “Gangster Squad” will most likely be considered a disappointment. With a script as vacuous as its characters, “Gangster Squad” is still entertaining – incredibly entertaining, at that – but it’s lack of substance or character development keeps it from being anything but mindless fun that zooms by without any real steady direction.
Set in 1949 Los Angeles, the movie revolves around a group of police officers that assemble with the sole purpose of running dangerous mob kingpin Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) out of town. This is a violence-packed, sleek film that’s more of a caricature of the classic gangster films than a revival of them. But thanks to some well-placed humor and exciting shoot-‘emup action sequences, “Gangster Squad” manages to keep you engaged from the beginning until the end, despite what feels like a wasted opportunity overall.
Like the movie itself, Sean Penn is wonderfully over-the-top as Cohen. None of these characters were written with any layers, but at least Penn seems to be having a fun time in the brutish role…even if he is encumbered with ridiculous facial prosthetics. Then there’s the rest of the cast, each of whom is given so little depth that they come off as a bunch of stars playing ‘40s dress up. Taking on the role of the token sexpot, Stone’s given nothing to do other than to sport red lips and high slits — and even then she still comes off as horribly miscast.
This isn’t the classy throwback to film noir that most were expecting; in fact, it’s far from it. Yet the intentionally overblown nature of the film and the cheesy one-liners interspersed throughout it didn’t bother me. Right from the beginning you see what kind of film this is going to be, and if you start to accept it for the direction it took rather than the direction it should have taken, you’ll probably enjoy yourself. Because at the end of the day, “Gangster Squad” is nothing more than stylish, fun, and yes, shallow, January entertainment.