After beginning his career with two polarizing comedies, the entertaining Zombieland and shameful 30 Minutes or Less, American director Ruben Fleischer departs from familiar ground and delves into the underground mob scene for his third feature. However, in tackling the crime genre the emerging filmmaker shows his naivety and inexperience with a derivative crowd-pleaser that is so focussed on borrowing ideas from previous classics that it fails to establish its own identity.
Set in 1940s Los Angeles and inspired by true events, Gangster Squad follows a group of LAPD detectives who band together secretly to dethrone the notorious gangster who controls the corrupt city.
The team oriented narrative requires solid characters, but the plot exhausts every cliché with spoof-like caricatures who are defined by singular traits rather than complex personalities. Each Ocean’s 11-esque character fills their required mould; the leader, the ladies’ man, the veteran, the family man, the knife thrower and the rookie. Devoid of all authenticity and charm this is not a team the audience can support, but a squad of dispassionate action figures.
While the simplicity and predictability of the script can be tolerated for its succinctness, wasting the talents of a cast of this calibre is unforgiveable. Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Josh Brolin headline a promising ensemble cast, but prove that any actor is only as good as the material they work from and their wafer thin characters result in lacklustre performances. Not even an overacting, scenery chewing Sean Penn, as the dangerous mob boss Mickey Cohen, can rescue it. Even Penn himself fails to bring anything new to the role, striving for that De Niro/ Pacino performance, but failing miserably.
Gangster Squad is a film constantly in flux, a mishmash of ideas, one minute drenched in glossy ultra-violence then quickly shifting to underdone comedy and flimsy romance. This inconsistency, in tone, style and even genre, makes for an entirely incoherent experience and it’s after enduring a succession of plagiarized sequences that you realise how little this film has to offer.
Rather than a playful spoof that satirizes The Untouchables and other crime classics it steals from, Gangster Squad insults them with its mediocrity. With nothing but overblown clichés this dull, wasteful film barely qualifies as light entertainment.