Gangster Squad: Watch It For The Lulz
2013-01-22, 9:04 a.m.
Yes, this has spoilers. If you care.
I look forward to the essays that will someday bedeck the Internet talking about the writing failures of this movie. Because here's the thing: this movie has a genuinely good cast. It's got big names in it. So clearly at some point, these folks must have been told that this movie was going to be written better than it was...or something. It's the sort of movie that looks like it's going to be a slam dunk hit...but mostly you just kind of snicker to yourself a lot.
Here's the plot: it's 1949, and Mickey Cohen is running all crime in LA. He loooooooves LA and goes on about how Los Angeles is his destiny, whatever that means. And boy, does he hate people from Chicago. Well, he pretty much hates everybody. Now, I admit I'm not a fan of Sean Penn, who plays the part of Cranky McAasshole in most of the movies I've seen him in. But this is definitely the sort of movie he'd do, because he gets to be ugly and nasty and eat all of the scenery every time he's on screen. Indeed, Mickey Cohen is obviously Ax Crazy. Every time someone gets the best of his underlings, he has them killed in creatively torturous kinds of ways that I really just needed to stop looking at the screen for. Let's just say his first onscreen kill has a guy tied to the backs of two cars, and there are wolves at the ready.... and you get the drift. I am pretty sure that Cohen probably killed more of his own associates than the entire Gangster Squad did, which makes you wonder why anyone would voluntarily work for this guy and not head for the hills.
The LA police chief assigns Josh Brolin's character--O'Mara-- to form a Gangster Squad of people who are gonna leave their badges at home and just go out and kill/blow up/whatever any aspects of Cohen's operation they can get to. But they can't kill Cohen himself, oh no, because someone else will fill the vacuum. Or some kind of logic like that that boils down to "This isn't a Tarantino alternate history here and we can't kill Cohen off." O'Mara has a pregnant wife at home to scold him about being a cowboy cop or whatever, but she's actually given something to do by going through his files and hand picking the "bad boys" of the LAPD rather than the choirboys, who Cohen will probably buy off. There's an old gunslinger dude and his Hispanic protege, a black cop, and a nerdy "wire" guy with a family, so guess how that's gonna go. And then there's Jerry Wooters--I am not making that name up, but WOOTERS?!?!--played by the ever-charming Ryan Gosling. Jerry seems to have slightly more brains than everyone else in the outfit, as he'll occasionally point out the stupidity of things. Not that that helps anything.
I forgot to mention that O'Mara is the kind of guy who invites all the bros over to his house and never has managed to mention to anyone that he has a pregnant wife at home. That's telling. Oh yeah, and he's just not over being in the war yet. He has to FIGHT!
Let me tell you about these heroes' first gig--which is minus Jerry for some reason, as apparently he can't be arsed to show up and would rather hang out with a doomed shoeshine boy. (No, seriously, there's a kid that gets 5 minutes of screentime and then gets shot randomly and oh, woes!) The other five guys put on bandannas and rob some casino of Cohen's where there's a bunch of movie extras in costume. And then they promptly FREAK THE HELL OUT when they see cops in the place. "OMG THOSE ARE REAL COPS!" (Not extras? How can you tell there?) Anyway, they all run like little bitches, but two of them get caught because they take their time helping to push another guy's car up to running. Then the other guys decide to pull a jailbreak. The old gunslinger guy ties a rope between the bumper of his car and the bars on the prison, and then drives...and guess what, the bumper comes off, but not the bars. Yeah, it's THAT kind of movie.
I guess they get better, or at least they kill a lot of people and set money on fire. That last bit is what keys in the I-guess-he's-psychic Cohen to realize that whoever's been targeting him is cops. He calls in his connections, and it looks like the police chief and O'Mara are gonna be out of jobs. Cohen also sends some folks to shoot up O'Mara's house. Where his pregnant wife somehow manages to crawl across the floor, not get shot, and (offscreen) GIVE BIRTH IN THE BATHTUB. What?
Jerry's interest in life is picking up on Cohen's "etiquette tutor" (i.e. she tells him what fork to use once), Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone. Despite obviously seeing that she ain't single, he picks up on her anyway. These two are as cute together as ever, but they don't get a whole lot of opportunities to show it. And I hate to say it because I love Emma Stone, but god love her, they don't give her much to do in this picture besides wear nice clothes and smoke and pose a lot. Many people go up to her (and Jerry) and say, "Look, YOU BOTH ARE GONNA DIE IF COHEN FINDS OUT ABOUT THIS." And Grace says...nothing about this. She just stares at people. Indeed, she spends most of her time with Cohen staring into space, looking terminally bored and like she'd rather be reading the phone book. Why is she with this guy? Who knows, I guess he picked her out of an acting lineup or something. We don't know and the movie doesn't bother to say. But after Cohen goes on his anti-cop rampage, she runs out of there, and Jerry has a friend of his hide her. Then Cohen and goons show up at his house, and Grace hides in the bushes as she watches the friend try to fight the goons. Then the friend is all, "Let's box, Mickey!" and Mickey is all, "I have a gun, BOOM." During this whole scene, Grace is just watching and I am thinking, RUN, GIRL, RUN! THEY KNOW YOU'RE THERE! How she gets away from him, I have no idea and they don't show it.
They also don't bother to explain, at all, how Grace manages to track down Jerry. She takes a cab to O'Mara's shot-up house, where O'Mara is just hanging on the porch with the recently arrived Jerry. Let me just point out that as far as I can tell, Grace has never SEEN O'Mara and doesn't know he exists, much less that he has a house and where it is, and especially not that Jerry might spontaneously show up at it. Huh? There are just too many shortcuts in this movie. And Grace is all, "I saw him kill someone, I can be a witness!" and I'm thinking, "If I were you, I'd move to Cancun rather than testify against that dude."
The movie ends with a giant Christmas shoot-em-up extravaganza, of course, as you do. Mickey finally gets arrested and goes to Alcatraz, and the police chief gets all of the credit for the gangster squad's work, which nobody else ever knows about. But O'Mara tells us that that's totally okay, because the guy who did not much of anything all movie totally deserved it! Grace and Jerry end up happily ever after with Cohen's dog, and O'Mara chucks his badge into the sea and goes to play with his baby.
Good lines from the movie: