Slightly less convincing than Scott Baio and Jodie Foster’s child hooligans in the 1976 Bugsy Malone, Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s unintentionally hilarious Gangster Squad is so slick and glossy, I almost slipped on it. Caring not a whit for historical accuracy nor any semblance of period detail, half of Hollywood’s cool crowd has been laughably miscast to put on an anachronistic fashion show. The 1940’s jargon clangs with the contemporary performances, and every set looks like a soundstage that was built yesterday.
The Ellroy for Dummies plot concerns legendary racketeer Mickey Cohen, played here by Sean Penn beneath so much hideous prosthetic makeup and grotesque physical contortions, he must’ve mistaken this for a Dick Tracy sequel. Josh Brolin wears exactly one sour facial expression as an uncorruptable cop, recruited by Nick Nolte’s wheezy police chief to head up a crew of vigilantes, leaving their badges at home to take out Cohen’s L.A. gambling operations by any means necessary.
It’s a rainbow coalition of stock characters, with Giovanni Ribisi as the nerd, Robert Patrick as the cowboy, Anthony Mackie as the black guy and Michael Pena as a Mexican actually named Navidad. (With a Native American in full headdress, they could pass as the Village People.) Ryan Gosling tackles the Doc Holliday role of a morally dubious, skirt-chasing lush by amusing himself at no small expense of the ludicrous film he’s trapped in. His omnipresent smirk betrays a contempt for the material rivaled only by my own.
Will Beall’s stutter-step screenplay (paying little attention to Paul Liberman’s nonfiction book) begins every other scene with either Brolin or Nolte walking into a room and loudly announcing what they all have to do to in order to move the plot forward. Organic storytelling this is not. Poor Emma Stone looks like a little kid playing dress-up as Mickey’s moll, seduced away by Gosling’s smooth talker. The two of them act out a Crazy Stupid Love prequel while Brolin and Penn are busy playing out Milk 2: The Rematch.
This is the worst performance Penn has ever given. And I saw Shanghai Surprise.