Archive for January 2013

Let us suspend historical accuracy for a moment and watch a movie.

I am a male with red blood.  Explosions, girls, guns, slow motion bullet-time photography, and pithy one-liners are among the one-dimensional things that I enjoy.  I will even admit to having a tiny man-crush on Josh “Tough Guy” Brolin and Ryan “I Play A Damn Good Retard” Gosling (see also: Blue Valentine, Lars and the Real Girl).  So why, oh why, was I unable to wrap myself around Gangster Squad?

The opening scene of the movie depicts Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen torturing a man who crossed him in some way (drugs? money? gambling? laughing at Sean Penn’s performance?).  During this scene, we learn several inauspicious things about the next two hours:

  1. Sean Penn is not very good at pitching a 50’s gangster Americana accent.
  2. As a result, Mickey Cohen sounds like a drunk man with Bell’s palsy.
  3. What Mickey Cohen was doing in Los Angeles, for the historically uninitiated, is not important, along with the development of the rest of the story.  Based on what I was being shown, I felt that he was the Freddy Kreuger of the 50’s: everyone knew about him, dreamt about him, but no one actually figured out what the hell he was doing and why he was there.
  4. Aside from Mickey Cohen, I do not remember anybody else’s name.

The last point is particularly dangerous when setting up a movie that contains characters.  It is impossible to expect character development when you cannot remember who the characters are.  Visually, yes, I can distinguish between the good guy and the bad guy, Josh Brolin’s razor-shorn face from the scruffy mug that chomps a cigar, but when my internal MST3K is play-by-playing “The Ugly One” and “The Guy with the Big Teeth,” it becomes a distended bore.  Rather than a film about a story, it becomes a film containing several disparate stories that happen around each other, with no unifying thread.

There were no overtly bad performances by any one SAG member; they all did fine, nothing to win an Oscar or a Razzie over.  The movie suffered from poor writing.  An important part of writing is what I call “connecting the dots”: it’s all nice and fine that you have a bunch of gangster cops who come together to wipe out a common threat, but how are you going to get there?  The writers left that part out.  One scene jerked to the next with no trail to follow, like a dry mop pushing Gangster Squad-sized dirt across the floor.

Okay.  Time to reinstate historical accuracy.  At the grand conclusion of this waste of a reel, we are treated to a fight scene between Mickey Cohen, the former boxer, and the main character sergeant dude, who we’ll just call Josh Brolin.  Cohen predictably has the upper hand in the fight until Brolin eats a magic mushroom, finds intestinal fortitude, draws longingly from a mental image of his wife and child growing up in a gangster-infested City of Angels, and beats the piss out of Cohen.

What was I talking about?  Right, historical accuracy: it was nearly a punch for punch ripoff of the final fight scene of Lethal Weapon.

1/4.  AMC will have it on regular airplay within a year.