Gangster Squad

Released on Friday, January 11 0 comments

What is it about Los Angeles in the 50’s that is attractive to actors? The chance to wear the hats of course.

The pristine New Year has the business casual idiots serving up their another crime-caper period drama, this one all about Mickey Cohen, the guy who made his name shadowing Benny Siegel and his fortune moving smack all over the City Of Angels. If nothing else, “Gangster Squad,” bursts out of the gate with the early lead for 2013’s least-clever title, following, (many years later) other wanna-be noir offerings like 1996’s “Mulholland Falls” and 97’s “L.A. Confidential.” Falls was a worthless snoozer, while Confidential, though heavy on literalness and light on subtlety, was a worthy Oscar contender. The funny thing about Confidential was none of the three leads wore the fedoras. In Gangster, everyone dons the lids at some point, never failing to look ridiculous.

More egregious than the Hat Squad could be the state of Sean Penn’s face. (More on that in a moment.) Despite the boorish way he sometimes conducts himself, Penn is a superb talent – when the mood strikes him – even if he isn’t someone anyone wants to be around. This is no doubt fine with him, as he seems to hate himself as much as anyone within his vicinity. Several years ago during a taping for The Actors Studio, James Lap-Dog Lipton gave him the question quiz that had become the show’s staple. (Despite the fact that it was lifted from French TV Host Bernard Pivot. To his credit, Lipton always gave Pivot full credit.) Lipton asked Penn what turned him on creatively. With then wife Robin Wright sitting in the front row Penn replied something to the effect of – a pair of hookers and an 8-ball.

Class act.

Even with his multitude of causes and personal issues, Penn has always been able to shake off most criticism because there was never a shortage of roles to fit his prickly demeanor. He stumbled a few years back with gloom-staking sketches in bleak and overrated fare like “21 Grams,” and “Mystic River.” He’s had some decent work since, but in mostly forgettable films. Which brings us back to his grill, which frankly gave us a shiver during the preview.

Some of those roles he used to get might now be drying up because of his fading looks. Not that he was ever matinee handsome, but as Mickey Cohen, he’s applied D-level prosthetics to make his eyes more menacing. The result is a face that looks like a Cobra. And no, not one of Sensei John Kreese’s Karate boys, an actual hooded reptile. It is simply a bad look. Fearing his volatile rep, the Producers must have agreed it was better to say nothing.

Thankfully for Penn, he’s got some younger stars to cosmetically smooth out his rough edges, like Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin. (Both sporting the chapeau’s.) Emma Stone flits around in a tight dress, still trying to convince us she’s A-list material. Nick Nolte growls out his lines in some sort of phlegm-induced warble and as usual, can’t be understood. This has been a problem for years.

The whole thing looks like a beefed up episode of “Mobsters,” the paint-by-numbers TV show about real former gangsters on the Biography Channel. Unlike that show, this caper overflows with ham-handed acting and pretention. We doubt it will make much of a ripple.