Director Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad” is allegedly based on a true story, but I imagine the true story was filtered through the Hollywood drain at least five times. And then completely turned in to a comic book for audiences that appreciate goofy action movies over stern dramatic crime thrillers. “Gangster Squad” is a ridiculous and often times unwatchable take off on the gangster picture that is so above and beyond moronic that it makes 1991’s “Mobsters” look like “The Godfather” in comparison. A dunderheaded mixture of “Lethal Weapon” and “The Untouchables,” Ruben Fleischer bases his crime action film around the dumbest and most incompetent crime fighting squad in Los Angeles. This is a top secret squad assembled to bring down crime boss Mickey Cohen, and they keep their operations top secret by having barbecues in the backyard of their leader’s house. This is a group we’re supposed to take seriously, but actually identify themselves by “Gangster Squad” at one point. Can you imagine them going through a check list? “Mob Marauders”? No. The… “Crime Capers”? No. The “Gangster Squad”! Get that letter head printed!
Fleischer’s B action picture had me longing for “LA Confidential” as it hosts a premise that’s so abundantly stupid, that I couldn’t believe anyone but a fourteen year old in a creative writing class came up with it. Since most of the city’s police officers are under the rule of mob boss Mickey Cohen, Police Commissioner Parker decides to fight corruption by forming a mod squad of rogue cops to–skirt the law. I’m not sure how that works against the notion of fighting corruption, but nonetheless, the plan for the Gangster Squad is to basically infiltrate Cohen’s organization and… make him think other gangsters are trying to bring down his business, or perhaps just bring down his operation without really filling him in on who is behind the missions. Josh Broln does his damndest to portray the valiant crime fighting John O’Mara who takes it upon himself to look for trouble and fight off thugs at every turn, only to be chastised by his wife for being a cop, and by his crusty boss who finds new loop holes to get Cohen’s men out of jail.
Nick Nolte sounds like Foghorn Leghorn with strep throat as the noble Commissioner Parker who recruits O’Mara to bring together a group of cops who works outside the law to fight cops that work outside the law. The circular logic and lack thereof in the movie is mind-blowing. I could literally write pages of ways the script defies common sense and all logic. “Gangster Squad” really has the right idea about following a group of rebels in their trials and tribulations, but it does very little to convince us that these men are anything but disorganized imbeciles that can barely pull off an operation, let alone keep covert most of the time. Nolte’s character Parker assures Brolin’s character O’Mara that the job is thankless and top secret, and yet he appears at his house to congratulate him and fill him in on a new job, O’Mara basically allows the group to be foiled time and time again by the likes of Michael Pena’s character Navidad, who we learn upon his introduction is a rank officer. Meanwhile, these men are able to tap phone lines, and bug a house (without wires, by the way), and can’t figure out that you can’t tear the wall off a prison cell by strapping a chain to the rear end.
Mob boss Cohen on the other hand, can’t figure out basic etiquette, but is able to completely figure out the Gangster Squad operation by the letter in mere seconds, and begins attempting assassinations on the group of rogue officers, though we’re never let in on how he figured out which cops were brought on to the operation. When Fleischer isn’t trying to back pedal by convincing us these schmucks are bad ass heroes to be reckoned with, he cribs from literally every cop film he can including “The Untouchables”. Brolin as O’Mara is basically Kevin Costner, while Ryan Gosling (who speaks in a comical high pitched Brooklyn accent for most of the film) as Jerry Wooters is Andy Garcia’s second hand man role. Sean Penn also half asses it mimicking Robert DeNiro’s role as Al Capone. Meanwhile Wooter’s romance with moll Grace is derivative of the romance in “LA Confidential” while the finale between O’Mara and Cohen is shamelessly ripped from “Lethal Weapon.” The only way “Gangster Squad” can be appreciated is on some base camp comedic level, for people who appreciate their entertainment with irony and a little tongue in cheek. There’s no way Fleischer’s film can stand beside films like “LA Confidential,” as it fails to deliver on drama, substance, and entertainment value.
Featured on the DVD and Blu-Ray combination pack is an audio commentary with director Ruben Fleischer who offers a standard by the numbers look at the making of “Gangster Squad” and never quite draws attention to the accidental controversy that held the film back a year. “The Gangland Files” is an HD picture in picture function that offers interviews, commentary, trivia, and focus point for the interactive audience. There’s a 46 minute “Focus Point: The Set Up” as well as featurettes for the function including “The Real Story,” “Josh Brolin on O’Mara,” “One Continuous Long Shot,” “Fashion of the ’40s,” “Ryan & Emma Reunited,” “Emma Stone on Grace,” “The Real Mickey Cohen,” “Ryan Gosling on Wooters,” “The Real Gangster Squad,” “The Real Locations,” “Nick Nolte on Chief Parker,” “Inside Slapsy Maxie’s,” “Ryan & Emma on the Set,” “Bringing Back Gangsters” and “Park Plaza.” There are twelve minutes of deleted scenes, with seven for the consumer featuring basic dialogue scenes and a chase sequence. There’s the 47 minute “Rogues Gallery” about Mickey Cohen narrated by William Devane that explores the life of Cohen, an 8 minute “Then and Now Locations” about the film’s shooting locations, and finally, a 5 minute “Tough Guys with Style” feature with interviews from the cast on their thoughts on Los Angeles in the 40’s and their experiences on the set.