Supposedly based upon actual people and events, this film's dull characters and preposterous shootouts make us dubious.
Set in Los Angeles circa 1949, "Gangster Squad" introduces us to up-and-coming mobster Mickey Cohen. Sean Penn gives Cohen a nonchalant swagger, but his face plaster prevents any facial expression. Cohen bursts with pride when explaining his method for turning lost women into malleable prostitutes, but we see him happiest when killing employees he deems derelict in carrying out their duties.
One of the few cops to refuse Cohen's Bribes, Chief Parker (Nick Nolte, beefy and mumbling his cliche dialog), enlists Sgt. John O'Mara (a stoic Josh Brolin) to run an off-the-books operation. Parker instructs O'Mara to choose a few men capable of using guerilla tactics to hit Cohen's gambling houses and gunrunning activities where it hurts - in the pocketbook.
Mireille Enos appears as O'Mara's heavily pregnant wife. She's the brains behind choosing the right men for her slightly dim husband's dangerous mission, insisting he recruit rebels and fighters. Her choices include gunslinging officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick - digging every second), who brings along his neophyte partner, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena). O'Mara also invites African-American beat cop Coleman Harris (a bland Anthony Mackie), along with a brainiac Conway Keeler, a courageous nerd needed for his technical know-how, played by the ever-credible Giovanni Ribisi.
Initially unable to recruit Sgt. Jerry Wooters (puppy-eyed Ryan Gosling wearing a pubescent voice), Wooters' growing disdain for Cohen, and his attraction to the gangster's moll (Emma Stone, posing as noir cool), eventually prompt him to join up.
Old-fashioned shoot-outs fizzle amid a blur of incoherent action, or bad guys afflicted with can't-shoot-straight-itus.
Dialog, nabbed from the funny papers, or worse, is barked, mumbled and whispered by actors who sense they'd be better off speaking pig Latin.
Unintentional comedy provides the best part of "Gangster Squad." Each time an underling is caught in the "Gangster Squad's" crosshairs, Cohen accepts the man's apology before ordering his death. On one such occasion he tells his henchmen, "You know the drill," and sure enough, a huge drill is produced to splatter blood, bone and brains against shocked panes of frosted glass.
These few moments won't be sufficient to save the film from obscurity, but with lines like the aforementioned and "Who's the tomato?" - they are sure to resurface in movie-quote games, where and when only the bravest or most foolish will admit familiarity.