The movie is called Gangster Squad but it’s so inept that I kept thinking of Police Squad! — the 1980s spoof TV show that gave us the stone-faced detective Frank Drebin and led to the Naked Gun movies.
Gangster Squad stars a top cast — Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin as cops trying to break up a criminal racket, Emma Stone as Gosling’s girl, and Sean Penn as vicious gangster and ex-boxer Mickey Cohen. All of them are terrible, but special mention must be made of Penn’s performance as the lethal Cohen, who rules the underworld and owns the police in 1949 Los Angeles. Penn, who for reasons I couldn’t fathom plays the part under a fake nose and a prosthetic brow that make him look like Herman Munster, does a piece of cartoonish overacting, all snarls and shouts, that would have embarrassed the cast of the 1960s Batman.
Moreover, the action of Gangster Squad is so ludicrous that you half expect “Ker-BLAM!” and “BIFF!” to pop up in quotation balloons on the screen. Brolin plays Sgt. John O’Mara, a tough-as-nails cop who accepts an assignment from his grizzled boss (Nick Nolte) to make war on Cohen’s crime outfit. The Sarge isn’t expected to make arrests, though: Cohen has so many cops on his payroll that that would be a waste of time. Sarge’s brief is to spend the movie destroying Cohen’s property and generally terrifying his minions until the final showdown.