Coming Attractions: An All-Star Cast Gets a Little Untouchable in Gangster Squad

The ubiquitous gangster movie. Now, we’ve seen this done before, whether as a serious crime drama, as classic noir, or as a bit of slapstick and tongue-in-cheek, take 1990’s Dick Tracy starring Warren Beatty for example. The challenge of today’s gangster/mob film is to make it just as entertaining as it is ballsy.

Fans of Boardwalk Empire know exactly what I’m saying. Sure, underlying in most gangster films you’ll find a kind of code that the key players follow, one for gangsters, and another for the cops who are attempting to root them out. This Ruben Fleischer-directed drama (Zombieland, 30: Minutes or Less) looks to be no different.

This thing has an all-star cast. Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte for God’s sake, Emma Stone, and Anthony Mackie. Now, an all-star cast can mean great things for a movie. Tension, great acting, winning portrayals, and the ability to feed off each other nearly effortlessly. See 1987’s The Untouchables starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Andy Garcia, and Robert De Niro. Or it could mean a bunch of pretty faces and would-be interesting caricatures that don’t go anywhere, or are too thinly drawn to get a real sense of the character’s importance. Don’t know what I mean? See 1991’s Mobsters starring Christian Slater, Richard Grieco, and Patrick Dempsey. Gangster Squad seems to want to fall somewhere in between. Whether it strikes a chord of flash over substance remains to be seen, but undoubtedly it’s highly stylized and primed for maximum action and entertainment. Bad guys are bad. Good guys are principled, egotistical bastards — somehow flawed — but with an unnerving sense of honor.

From this brief look it looks like Penn delivers what we expect, however, the make-up and prosthetics look a little spotty giving him a bit of a comical presence, especially while he blusters. And then there’s Nick Nolte. Holy smokes, that’s a voice from a hell dimsension! The timber of Nolte’s growling, low register is in stark contrast to Gosling’s high octave whispering full of sunbeams and Oreos. This is a bit unsettling. Not Christian Bale “straining soup through his vocal cords” unsettling, but bad for a Canadian who’s prone to a Brooklyn accent. Right? Not surprisingly, Josh Brolin appears as a team leader. Sigh. Can we just say that we’re getting a bit tired of the “Josh Brolin stoicism?” Is this all this guy can do? He seemingly has no range other than “copious deadpan” and “immovable flat pancake.” Which brings us to Emma Stone who’s still flirting with Gosling as premiere member of the Ryan Gosling Abs and Pectorals Fan Club, which is fine, but if you’re going to be that girl in a gangster movie you better have a pistol in your garter, or why waste the pretty pout?

Of course it’s show-offy. They emerge from behind a movie screen with guns blazing! Tarantino scoffs. Heh. Round it all out with fists-a-flying, pep talk-a-pepping, carnations in dinner jackets-a-blooming, and Jay-Z theme music-a-thumping while setting the stage, and in the end you’ll probably have a decent, albeit slick, if not memorable action/crime drama.

It bows this October, prime time for movie heavy-hitters, and it should probably be on your “will see it” list.

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