We will always remember the tragic events that took place in Aurora, Colorado this past Summer. At a midnight showing of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, a gunman (who I refuse to sadistically glorify and identify by name) fired shots into a packed movie theatre killing 12 and injuring 58 others. For as horrific as the act was, the shooting also had its impact on Hollywood. Ruben Fleischer's first trailer for Gangster Squad included an unforgettable clip with tommy guns firing throughout a movie theatre and, out of respect for the victims and their families, Warner Bros. forced the director to re-shoot parts of his feature. Originally slated to hit theatres in September of 2012, Gangster Squad finally arrives in theatres four months later than scheduled. Despite the prolonged build up of anticipation, Fleischer's third directorial effort never reaches expectations.
In post World War II Los Angeles, east coast mobster Mickey Cohen (played by Sean Penn) has transformed the city into a morally corrupt and dishonest haven for criminals. With most of local law enforcement in Cohen's pocket, Chief Parker (played by Nick Nolte) turns to none other than Sgt. John O'Mara (played by Josh Brolin) to restore justice in Los Angeles. Through a carefully structured screening process, O'Mara gathers a group of specially skilled officers who put down their badges and go to war against Mickey Cohen's crime syndicate.
Fleischer's Gangster Squad plays out like a thoughtless and made-for-profit crime drama. Clearly picking and choosing from classic mob films of the past, Gangster Squad never truly develops its own identity. Predictable to a fault and overly formulaic, Fleischer swings and misses with this unimaginative and unoriginal effort. The characters lack depth, the script is virtually hollow and his star-studded cast is never given the appropriate platform to shine. For as reputable of an ensemble as he's given, Fleischer fails to generate the performances you would hope for out of rising stars like Ryan Gosling, Michael Pena and Emma Stone. It almost feels like a waste of immense talent. When you start to piece together each of these shortcomings, you begin to recognize Gangster Squad for what it really is ... a cash cow. Now, no one will ever know how much of the film needed to be altered after the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado, but clearly the new final product leaves much to be desired. Never breaking any ground in the often-loved mob genre, Gangster Squad is the second straight mediocre release (let's not forget 30 Minutes or Less) from director Ruben Fleischer.
Although the feature clearly has its faults, Gangster Squad is by no means a disaster. To its benefit, the film is well paced and fluent enough to begin and end without a hiccup. The screenplay's scarcity of substance and character development make for a fast-moving release. In addition to its smooth feel, Gangster Squad scrounges up just enough violence and action to satisfy any fan of mob movies. However, the rare memorable scene and "over before you know it" approach fails to make up for the film's overabundance of cliche dialogue and regurgitated ideas.
Unable to create a unique identity, Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad is sadly a letdown. With the blame falling mostly on the shoulders of its director and its screenwriter, Will Beall, even a talented crop of actors and actresses can't resurrect this bland screenplay. If you're looking for a superficial and action-filled movie experience, then Gangster Squad may be enough to satisfy your needs. Yet, if you're looking for a never-before-seen addition to the mob genre, you won't find it here.