Gangster Squad Review
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January is traditionally a time for bad horror films and questionable comedies. While most of the movie biz is still wrapped up in the year’s award contenders, theaters fill up with cinematic trash. This year, though, thanks to the unfortunate postponement of director Ruben Fleischer’s mobster flick, Gangster Squad, adrenaline junkies can head to theaters to see a movie that’s about as good as it gets at this time of year.

In 1949, Los Angeles belongs to Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former boxer turned ruthless crime boss. Though most of the LAPD is in Cohen’s pocket, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) refuses to bow to the mobster’s rule. For that reason, the chief of police (Nick Nolte) enlists the no-nonsense WWII veteran in a deadly new war: the war against Cohen.

O’Mara’s job is to assemble a team of cops to destroy Cohen’s lucrative operation—as quickly and as stealthily as possible. But it isn’t long before O’Mara and his band of misfits begin to shake things up in Cohen’s camp.

Gangster Squad is a man’s-man kind of action movie. Set in a time when men were men and gangsters were A-list celebrities, it’s rough-and-tumble and gleefully, sometimes shockingly violent. The result is seriously macho and often melodramatic, too, but it’s also a lot of testosterone-y fun, thanks to the occasional touches of Zombieland director Fleischer’s playfully dark and twisted sense of humor.

The characters, meanwhile, are the kind that you’d find in a classic western. The bad guys are wholly bad—and the good guys…well, they’re a little bit bad, too. Though their hearts are in the right place, these duty-bound tough guys will stop at nothing to bring their enemies to justice. They’re so single-minded, in fact, that they don’t always think through their moves before they make them—which only adds to the film’s entertainment value. They tend to fly by the seat of their pants—and it sometimes backfires on them in the most amusing of ways.

Somehow, though, the whole manly-man act, combined with some awkward dialogue, translates to wooden performances—along with one ridiculously over-the-top performance from Penn. Still, it all seems strangely fitting. And the defiant yet bumbling band of heroes—from Ryan Gosling’s slick and stylish Jerry Wooters to Giovanni Ribisi’s mild-mannered geek, Conway Keeler—will give audiences plenty to cheer about.

Gangster Squad isn’t a blockbuster-level thriller. It’s sometimes a little bit cheesy—and the performances are all over the place. But it’s still full of old-school cops-and-robbers action. When it comes to January releases, you rarely find an adventure this thrilling or characters this fun to watch. So if you’re braving the theaters during this year’s Movie Dead Zone, don’t hesitate to buy a ticket to see this gritty gangster thriller.

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