Jan 31, 2013

Gangster Squad (2013): C-

Normally, I'm a sucker for alternate versions, extended editions, and director's cuts of films, as the differences between such versions often illustrate the role even seemingly minor editorial choices play in affecting the overall quality or nature of a film (case in point: the qualitative divide that but a few changes wrought on the unrated cut of the criminally misunderstood Miami Vice). Gangster Squad, however, is so viscerally lethargic and emotionally vacuous that I've no interest in seeing the inevitable "unaltered" cut featuring the movie theater shootout that was promptly excised and worked around after the unspeakable bloodshed at the Aurora shooting some six weeks before the film was originally slated for release. When it comes to cinematic depictions of violence, there are few examples that prompt my personal concern over the effect had on their intended audience, and while the cops 'n robbers shoot 'em up relentlessness of Gangster Squad never struck me as evil, the superficial characterizations and morose plotting that abound effectively rob the spent bullets and dead bodies of even the fleeting substance of genre thrills. Director Ruben Fleischer (of Zombieland) crafts many a beautiful surfaces and seemingly knows how to cast a film for maximum archetypal flair, but amidst the lesser-of-two-evils tale of rogue cops going out on a limb to take down gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, essentially a more boring version of Robert De Niro to this film's The Untouchables), virtually everything is a surface, all style and pose devoid of soul. That the aforementioned movie theater sequence was excised is telling not so much of the film's wanting creativity, but of the culture and values it caters to, and ultimately reinforces, astutely summarized by Slant Magazine's Glenn Heath, Jr.: "Unsettling cinematic images can be notoriously excessive as long as they don't echo real-life tragedy, or even vaguely reference whatever atrocity the paying public has on their minds during the latest news cycle." Gangster Squad wouldn't necessarily be a better film for it, but it'd be a more honest one, as lip service to fallen heroes is among the lighter of this film's numerous artistic and entertainment offenses.

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