Friday, January 11, 2013

Rat-A-Tat-Tat

Gangster Squad       Final Cut Score: 88%


January is known as Hollywood's dumping ground. With the holiday season toast and playoff football taking precedence, film studios respond by dishing out the kind of dreck that will be available for on-demand consumption weeks after its run in theaters. Ah, but Gangster Squad is not your typical January release. 

Initially slated for early September, the based-on-a-true-story crime drama was pushed back to 2013 after the Aurora shooting as the film originally featured a machine-gunning massacre inside a movie theater. With the subsequent re-shoots complete, Gangster Squad has finally arrived and there's one more reason this is not your typical January release: It's not a heap of trash.

Set in 1940s Los Angeles, we roll out under the narration of Matt Dillon Josh Brolin playing John O'Mara, a World War II vet-turned sergeant with the LAPD, tapped with the task of taking down nefarious mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn sporting a ridiculous-looking prosthetic nose). Taking a page from Cohen's lawless ways, O'Mara assembles a squad of renegades, operating more like thugs than cops as they begin busting up Cohen's City of Angels empire.

And it's that crammed-with-top-shelf-talent "gangster squad" that makes the movie go. Ryan Gosling proves once again he's every bit the super-superstar as O'Mara's crazy cool, cocky-as-all-get-out partner who's wooing Cohen's gal pal Grace (Emma Stone) on the side. Giovanni Ribisi is pitch perfect as the tech nerd of the lot. Robert Patrick kills it as the ol' school gunslinger who's saddled with the rookie of the bunch, Michael Pena. And Anthony Mackie of The Hurt Locker fame, is ablaze as the band's inner city bad ass.

Swapping the undead for dudes in three-piece suits, director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) keeps the film moving with solid pacing but it's the premium cast that redeems the project. Without them (excluding Penn's rubber schnoz), Gangster Squad could easily be your average direct-to-DVD-level January offering.

But the likeability factor is too darn difficult to deny.