GANGSTER SQUAD – Review by Susan Granger

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Notorious Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen has been portrayed by several actors over the years, including Harvey Keitel, who copped an Oscar-nomination for “Bugsy.” Now Sean Penn plays the former boxer-turned-mobster who became the prime West Coast promoter of drugs, gaming and prostitution as a cold, ruthless psychopath.

In 1949, LAPD Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a no-nonsense WWII combat vet, decided to take down Cohen, assembling an undercover ‘Gangster Squad’ of renegade officers handpicked by his worried, pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos), and authorized by crusading Commissioner William Parker (Nick Nolte). There’s electronics whiz Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), black street enforcer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), grizzled sharp-shooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) with his Hispanic apprentice Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena), and cocky, womanizing rebel Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who falls for Mickey Cohen’s moll, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), as they’re waging guerrilla warfare.

Scripted by former LA homicide detective Will Beall from Paul Lieberman’s series of articles and directed with an astonishing lack of subtlety by Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”), this violently sensationalistic melodrama has a troubled history. A major machine-gun massacre that had been filmed at Hollywood’s legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater – and was shown in the theatrical ‘Coming Attractions’ trailer – was scrapped after the Aurora, Colorado, tragedy and the confrontation re-staged in Chinatown. Then the film’s release was postponed in deference to the Newtown, Connecticut, tragedy.

What remains is slick, synthetic, cartoonish schlock. Despite occasional comedic moments, it’s filled with broadly caricatured performances that bear only a passing resemblance to historical truth. The real-life Mickey Cohen was known to be charismatic, charming the celebrated film colony along with journalists and politicians with parties at his Brentwood mansion.

What’s most memorable is the production design, including a particularly grisly, introductory killing staged beneath the famed HOLLYWOODLAND sign (it was abbreviated shortly afterward) and the glitzy, art deco nightclubs like Slapsy Maxie’s, where slinky femme fatales enticed tuxedo-clad customers.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Gangster Squad” is a garish, bullet-riddled 4 – a completely forgettable flick.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.