It’s difficult when something looks so good, so polished, but is completely hollow, without edge or substance. Gangster Squad, the latest suspicious package from the Hollywood’s Gangster Fetishisation Bureau, will come and go. It’s successful in that it provides a reason to sit indoors, away from the snow outside, but not much more. (In my review of Gangster Squad‘s source material, I said that it would make a better film than book. I was wrong.)
The insult is compounded by the all-star cast, relegated to playing extras from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Big marquee names – Gosling, Stone, Nolte, Brolin, Ribisi – playing two dimensional shotgun racks that spout lines of period dialogue that sound so forced and completely false that it’s difficult not to burst out laughing. At one point, an actual human being gathers together enough sentience to form their mouth and say, without irony, “You know the drill” before presenting an actual drill. It’s been said before, in other reviews, but it bears repeating. An Actual Drill.
It’s more of the “cops breaking the law to get the baddies” sub-genre that Hollywood absolutely loves. There’s never any tricky ethical questions to be asked, nor any signs of contrition underpinning the questionable action we see onscreen. The cops are all salt of the earth guys, either ex-army vets or hero cops, and the gangsters are all slimy, greasy, with either a speech impediment or some other sort of “baddie signifier” needed by audiences as stupid as us.
The only person to really escape the turgidity is Giovanni Ribisi, who brings his typically quirky, chirpy, twitchy charm to a role that is far, far beneath him, playing Keeler, the “bug guy”. Keeler was over six feet tall in real life, so Ribisi playing him must literally have been a stretch.
It’s all so po-faced and seriously played with none of the weight that such an attitude requires. It has none of the heft of The Untouchables, none of the fun of Bugsy Malone, or even Mobsters. When the best thing about your film is the Jay-Z song that pops up in the trailer, then you’ve got problems, son. 99 of them.