The "Gangster Squad" movie, which finally opens Friday, initially got caught up in the furor surrounding the massacre in the Colorado movie theater.
For good or ill, "Gangster Squad" is inextricably linked to the theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. A trailer for the film featured a scene of a shootout inside a movie theater. It was immediately pulled after the shooting, and the scene had to be re-set and re-shot in Chinatown.
Yet even now, having had its opening delayed a full four months, "Gangster Squad" arrives the very week the Aurora shooter goes to trial and the issue of guns in society and in entertainment dominates the national conversation.
Some things are - apparently - just unavoidable. It's hard to escape when the film is as gleefully violent as this one is.
"Gangster Squad," set in 1949, is based on the real-life battle between mobster Mickey Cohen and the Los Angeles Police Department. The film follows a secret squad of cops, whose sole purpose is to stop Cohen from establishing a crime empire in L.A.
"When we succeed nobody will ever know what we've done. No medals, no promotion, but I'm here to tell you there's death in it waiting for the man who hesitates. We're not solving a case here, we're going to war," says Josh Brolin, who heads up this gangster squad, a squad that also includes a dapper Ryan Gosling. Sean Penn plays the mobster to the hilt, and then, over some.
Penn is so overwrought in "Gangster Squad" that it's distracting and comical. Penn isn't playing a tough guy mobster, he's playing an outsized caricature of a tough guy mobster.
And Penn is just the most obvious example of what's wrong with this movie. It looks great on the big screen, very stylish with its period detail and vibrant cinematography, but it's all gloss and glitz, without any substance or grit.
Everybody in this powerhouse cast is playing types, not people. And none of the actors is strong enough, or given enough good material, to make their "type" distinctive. At times it reminded me of that old Warren Beatty movie Dick Tracy movie in which every character is intentionally cartoony. I don't think it's intentional in "Gangster Squad."
When people die, and lots of people die quite horribly in this movie, there's little resonance since no one seems quite real.
Gangster Squad's gorgeous look can't make up for the fact that it lacks both passion and tension.