Even after seven years, some of us L.A. Noir fans are still trying to get rid of the bad taste left by Brian De Palma's adaptation of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia. But if ever a film sounded like a wonder cure for that disappointment it was Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad - Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn squaring up to each other in the Tommy Gun war between cops and mobsters in 1949 Los Angeles. What a cast, what crime movie pedigrees (Brolin - No Country for Old Men, Gosling - Drive, Penn - State of Grace and Carlito's Way), what a real-life story for inspiration.
And what a letdown: there are nearly as many blunders as bodies here.
Detective Sergeant John O'Mara (Brolin) is recruited by LAPD Chief Bill Parker (Nolte) to set up an off-the-books team to bring down West Coast transplant mobster Mickey Cohen (Penn). Many cops, it seems, are on Cohen's payroll and, in Untouchables style, O'Mara trawls the personnel files and ranks until he finds the men he thinks he can trust.
Coleman Harris (Mackie) is a beat cop who's been waging his own one-man war against drugs in black Los Angeles. Conway Keeler (Ribisi) is a genius when it comes to bugging. Max Kennard (Patrick) is so old school lawman he even fires a six-gun and has a Mexican sidekick, Navidad Ramirez (Pena).
O'Mara also wants the debonair-but-decidedly- useful Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Gosling) in his strong-arm unit, but he's a tougher nut to crack. Not only does Wooters think this war is unwinnable, he's also got the hots for Cohen's latest conquest, Grace Faraday (Stone).
Back in October, Total Film ran a feature called The Ten Coolest Films Being Made Right Now, in which Gangster Squad was placed at No 2. "I think it's going to amount to an iconic film that will stand up there among the other great gangster movies," director Fleischer was modestly quoted as saying. He's missed that target by more than a mile because what's ended up on screen is a so-so actioner that's fast-moving and has a few good lines but is lacking in suspense and fails in scene after scene to make you emotionally invest in the characters - there isn't a Don Corleone, Jake Gittes or Bud White here.
From jaw line to shovel hands, Brolin looks the part but doesn't become a cheer-for hero. Gosling is so laidback he's annoying and fails to relight the fire he had with co-star Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love. As for Penn, well, watch out for flying scenery from the amount of chewing - he opts for panto psycho and ends up sounding like Hanna-Barbera's Doggie Daddy. You may think he's the best thing about the movie, but for all the wrong reasons.
Like Al Capone, in real life Mickey Cohen ended up going to prison for tax evasion, and that's actually a far better story than the one on offer here. If you've a hankering for hoodlums, then Lawless is out on DVD from January 14 and will offer far more entertainment.
This is L.A. Inconsequential.