Gangster Squad **½ (R) Heavy on violence, and probably light on the historic basis for the script, this gritty crime drama, set in Los Angeles’ post-war boom of the late 1940s, pits some hard-nosed cops against a mobster who was trying to make the place like Capone’s Chicago in the Roaring Twenties. As portrayed here, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) was a vicious psychopath well on his way to building an empire, complete with crooked cops and politicians. The LAPD Chief (Nick Nolte) puts Josh Brolin in charge of a secret, off-the-books cadre of cops to break the back of Cohen’s syndicate by whatever means were required.
The premise gives us plenty of gore, and allows Penn to chew almost as much scenery as Al Pacino did playing Tony Montana in Scarface. Brolin’s an ex-GI, backed by Ryan Gosling. His character is more focused on chasing skirts than solving crimes, which draws him to Cohen’s current arm candy (Emma Stone). The noirish theme and era evoke comparisons to one of the great films in this milieu, L.A. Confidential. But these characters and the script fall far short of that standard. That still leaves enough room for a pretty satisfying shoot-‘em-up for an adrenaline antidote to those ole winter blahs. (1/11/13)