One of the most anticipated films this winter may turn out to be one of the most disappointing. The star-studded crime thriller “Gangster Squad” is being torn apart by critics.
Despite its appealing premise, killer trailer and an impressive cast that includes Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Josh Brolin -- the film is being called “catastrophically juvenile” and a “big waste.”
Directed by Ruben Fleischer, who won acclaim for the campy satire “Zombieland” in 2009, “Gangster Squad” is based on Paul Lieberman’s book of the same name. Set in 1949 Los Angeles, the film centers on mob king Mickey Cohen (Penn) and a group of LAPD outsiders (Brolin and Gosling) who dare to take him down.
“Gangster Squad,” which originally featured a movie theater shootout sequence, was set to debut on Sept. 7, 2012, but was delayed following the deadly movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.
At first, it was unclear why Warner Bros. pushed the film into early 2013 -- making it ineligible for awards season accolades. Now, the reason is clear.
Entertainment Weekly's Owen Glieberman refers to the film as “’L.A. Confidential’ remade as a mediocre Jason Statham film.”
“Brolin and Gosling are both supposed to be playing World War II veterans who bring their knowledge of battle into the tough turf of the streets, but that's just a concept that the sketchy, half-baked script tosses out there,” Glieberman said. “Ditto for the secret and supposedly dangerous love affair between Gosling's Sgt. Jerry Wooters and Stone's Grace. You'd think that there would be a scene in which Mickey discovers what's going on and fills the screen with his venomous threat. But no. In ‘Gangster Squad,’ even the ultimate underworld betrayal is just another part of the scenery.”
Mike LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle concludes that the film is uninventive, disappointing and dull.
“Here's the problem: A movie like this -- set in the film noir days of postwar Los Angeles -- gains a lot from its historical authenticity (or even the illusion of it),” LaSalle said. “But by the second or third time the gangster squad provokes some insane public gunfight with Cohen's army, you catch on that you're not seeing something real or almost real, but an attempt to ramp up an old story for maximum action. With that realization goes the illusion of this movie's integrity. What's left is nothing terrible, just typical.”
Another critic thinks "Gangster Squad" is so bad it's almost good. “For much of its running time, it can't decide whether it wants to be a serious gangster drama or a kid-friendly action adventure (graphic violence be damned),” Scott Mendelson of the Huffington Post said, “before just giving up and becoming a glorified video game instead. Despite all of that, it is not a boring picture, filled with enjoyably bad acting, laughably clichéd and/or corny plot turns, and pretty much non-stop violence.”
Jeremy Kirk of First Showing labeled the film “fun, flashy, forgettable” and called it “surface-level fun that gets bogged down with absurdity, flashy to the point of ostentation, and that's not even including Sean Penn's makeup.”
The stylized throwback earned a dismal 39% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
So, will the negative reviews hurt the film at the box office? “Zero Dark Thirty,” which opens in wide release on Friday, is the film's main competitor, and since the 2013 Oscar nominations were announced on Thursday, it’s possible that audiences will opt to catch up on awards season fare instead of a poorly reviewed flick.
“Gangster Squad” opens on January 11.