Skip to main content

Review: The Vacuum of L.A. (Gangster Squad)

Gangster Squad starts with Sgt. John O'Meara commenting on the current state of Los Angeles in 1949. Several characters mention the City of Angels has turned into a cesspool since the arrival and subsequent takeover by gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). What we see and are shown never alludes to anything other than a hell-hole, but Sgt. John O'Meara's words must mean something.

To Sgt. O'Meara (Josh Brolin) honor and integrity are tangible things, they can be sought out and reclaimed. He has returned from The War to see his home ravaged and manipulated into a gangster's playground. His wife is pregnant and just wants him to take the check and keep low. After busting up an entire operation by himself, O'Meara has let it be known: he won't take this sitting down.

Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) has taken the opposite approach: retreat into liquor and women because the worst has not gotten here yet. Wooters' apathy hides a great deal, but O'Meara knows better. A travesty outside a nightclub Wooters frequents changes his mind pretty quickly. With the addition of several street-savvy members to the crew, including a gun-slinger and a wireman, O'Meara is ready to take down Cohen.

What follows next is almost cartoonish in its depiction of destabilizing a criminal organization. Faces are bludgeoned to a pulp, cops are out wasting thugs left and right, explosions go unnoticed, every procedure is thrown out the window. One expects tough antics, but when fisticuffs take place instead of slapping cuffs on in every occasion, the film makes it hard to take any of the proceedings seriously.

As jarring as some of those scenes are, the film's true downfall is Sean Penn's Cohen. Penn gnashes his teeth against everything in sight: fellow actors, scenery, his lines. His fierceness is never doubted, but it is hard to picture who would let his man be in charge of anything. Psychopaths tend not to be the masters of economics that they think they are.

On paper, Gangster Squad could easily have been the next Untouchables, but it rarely has the drive or charm that film had. The shoot-outs are loud and often though they leave no mark. For all of the action sandwiched into the runtime, it is hard to care about the stakes. A shame considering the worthwhile cast and lively cinematography. Gangster Squad is so reminiscent of other better flicks that it has no identity of its own.


Popular posts from this blog

Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk vs. The Avengers

There are two movies about the Hulk and one that features the green monster as a major player. One was made in 2003 by an auteur, starring a little-known Aussie. Five years later The Incredible Hulk came out to the same tepid reaction as Ang Lee's Hulk did. This weekend, The Avengers made the Hulk as popular as he has been in a long time. So it comes down to this: Hulk vs. Hulk vs. Hulk. Who will smash whom?

Round One: Acting
Edward Norton outshines Eric Bana as the dual persona of the meek Bruce Banner and the rage-induced Hulk. Eric Bana was given little to do but run and fight and often the audience was just waiting for him to transform. With the Incredible Hulk, Norton's Banner is fully fleshed-out and we are given a reason to care about him. Being allowed to go a little dark with Banner's scenes questioning what is left of his life provided emotional resonance to the character that Hulk lacked. Yet even with the capable performance that Norton gives there was something …

Review: The Salvation

Westerns have never recovered from the oversaturation that killed off viewer interest decades ago, but every now and then a gem pops up. Recent successes like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers adaptation of True Grit all did well because they tweaked the genre slightly, but director Kristian Levring goes with an old school approach. A faithful recreation of those revenge Westerns made so popular in the 1970s, The Salvation envelopes many elements of previous Clint Eastwood classics and wraps it into a tidy package.

The Salvation starts in on the central dilemma, joining Jon (Hannibal‘s Mad Mikkelsen) at the train station where he awaits the arrival of his wife and son. Jon and his brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), have lived in the United States long enough to build a hospitable life for their family back in Denmark. This homecoming should be a sweet moment to establish the family important to Jon, but fate plays out…

Review: The Voices

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) spends his days working the nine-to-five shift at his new job at the Milton Bathtub Factory. Jerry is chipper to the point that he may turn some people off, but he never stops trying to make friends. Friends are something that Jerry could use because the only other conversation he has is with his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. Things are looking up though, Jerry has been tasked with planning the company picnic and he’s asked a girl (Gemma Arterton) out on a date. Jerry is so excited to share the news he rushes home to tell his pets about Fiona. Oddly enough, both Bosco and Mr. Whiskers start talking back.

No need to go back and re-read that last sentence, yes, Ryan Reynolds has pets who talk back to him. His dog, Bosco, is quite affable, however, his cat, Mr. Whiskers, would feel right at home curled in the lap of Blofeld. Unfortunately for everyone around him, it’s the advice of the evil cat that Jerry heeds more often than not. For all of Jerry’s pleasant…