It’s 1949, and the City of Angels is under siege. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, made up like a Dick Tracy villain) runs the town ruthlessly; just ask the guy he orders to be literally torn in half in the first ridiculously gory scene. A pugilist turned malicious mobster, Cohen has almost every cop and judge in his pocket, and only no-nonsense flatfoot John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) dares tread where his bought-off, cowardly colleagues won’t. It isn’t long before our square-jawed hero is recruited to clandestinely clean up the town with the aid of a multiculti crew of pistol-packers, played by Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña and Giovanni Ribisi. Call them…the Goon Force! Uh, make that…the Hoodlum Battalion! No, wait, I know, how about…the Gangster Squad!
Though based partly on actual events, Ruben Fleischer’s ludicrous shoot-’em-up plays fast and loose with the facts, and plenty else besides. There’s a parodic touch or two evident in the early scenes—Penn doing a Bela Lugosi impersonation during a gruesome interrogation; Gosling hepcatting his every move as the squad’s designated lady-killer—that jibes with Fleischer’s own comedies-of-extremity Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less. But it soon becomes clear we’re not meant to laugh at these determinedly covert operatives so much as stand in awe of their way-of-the-gun stoicism. The overripe machismo and capital-A Acting quickly become tiresome, especially whenever Penn chews the scenery or Gosling does his patented narcissistic-rake act to charm the vulnerable moll (Emma Stone) he falls in crazy, stupid love with. But at least lots of pretty period-perfect re-creations of postwar L.A.—kudos, production designer Maher Ahmad!—get blown up and bullet-riddled real good.
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