The majority of Hollywood products exude style over substance, but sometimes there is so much style that it just works in the film’s favor. Gangster Squad is one such instance. Directed by Ruben Fleischer who made the hilarious Zombieland, Gangster Squad is a mishmash of The Untouchables, Goodfellas and Hoodlum and seems like a creamy resultant puree after tossing the three films into a mixie. It’s got an incredible lead cast of Senn Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, some outstanding production design that evokes the Noir-soaked 1940’s Los Angeles, glorious shootouts, eye popping cinematography, cops vs gangsters – the works. With all of that thrown in, theoretically the film should be a classic – it fails to be one but still succeeds in being an entertaining albeit forgettable action movie.
The plot makes you want to search for Brian De Palma’s name in the credits – post World War 2 the ex-boxer drug and casino racketeering kingpin Mickey Cohen (Penn) has set his sights on expanding his empire and running the entire East coast himself. The police are in Cohen’s pockets and there is little that the law can do to stop him. Enter Good Cop Josh Brolin as Sgt John O'Mara who is assigned by his chief (Nick Nolte) to put together a secret police squad to eliminate Cohen and his viral mafia operation. O’Mara assembles an Ocean’s 11 style team of a Dirty Harry-esque Robert Patrick, a technology expert (Giovanni Ribisi), a pretty boy (Ryan Gosling), a classy detective (Anthony Mackie) and a rookie (Michael Pena). Bugging Cohen’s house and learning of his operations becomes easy, but unfortunately so does one of the squad members falling in love with Cohen’s girlfriend (Stone).
Fleischer effortlessly nails the pacing and the satirical bits but at some parts Gangster Squad is amusingly corny – our heroes escape a spray of bullets over and over again like 80’s Bollywood stars. Our heroes also have wives and girlfriends unintentionally reminiscent of Karishma Kapoor and Raveena Tandon in Andaz Apna Apna. Gosling and Stone share an incredible amount of chemistry but the flirtatious encounter between them makes you expect them to suddenly apparate in front of two dozen dancers and break out into a Jeetendra song. It’s all pulpy as hell, and even downright sloppy at times when O’Mara belts out paeans on law and justice, thankfully most of the mess is offset by its superb editing and fun characters. Fleischer frustratingly doesn’t devote much time to the camaraderie between the Squad members despite making a badass villain out of Penn. What we ultimately get is fun enough junk.
(First published in MiD Day)