BY MICHAEL WALTERS
“Gangster Squad” assembles a murderer’s row of talent — Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Emma Stone — for what is essentially a big-screen video game. It’s an orgy of wall-to-wall violence that never lets things like story, character development, or dialogue get in the way of its next stylistic shoot-‘em-up.
Brolin is a war veteran and honest cop assigned by his police chief (Nolte) to take down gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn.) in 1949 Los Angeles. Gosling, employing an unusually nasal whine this time around, starts off as charming cop and playboy happy to just look the other way and stay out of trouble. But when a shoeshine boy he knows is killed in gang crossfire, he decides to join the Gangster Squad. The team — including surveillance expert Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena and old-fashioned sharpshooting cowboy Robert Patrick — sets out to destroy Cohen’s organization by whatever means necessary. And that means painstakingly fetishized violence that rivals the tactics of Cohen himself.
Penn plays Cohen as a movie gangster, several times removed from anything close to resembling real life. A true cartoon villain, he’s suitably grotesque — all brutality and a simple-minded lust for power under his false nose. He’s all surface and no substance, but then again, so is everybody else.
The film looks tremendous. From the cinematography to the costumes, it gets every detail of 1940s L.A. down just right. And it can be admittedly entertaining to watch. The film doesn’t have the script, the story, or the characters to become the new “Untouchables” it so clearly wants to be. But if you want nicely dressed cops and natty gangster spouting tough-guy phrases at each other amid the sound of machine gun fire this has enough mindless fun to kill an hour or two.