Sunday, January 13, 2013

“Gangster Squad” – Cartoon violence has seen better days.

Have you ever wondered what that phrase really means – cartoon violence? When you think about it, it’s a little ambiguous since you don’t know what cartoon it refers to. I typically equate it with Looney Tunes, and more specifically, Wile. E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. It always conjures up an image of the coyote being crushed by an anvil or being exploded by a rocket, followed by the coyote being perfectly fine in the next scene. But it’s not just them, or the rest of the Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, etc.) that participate in this violence, as nearly all cartoons incorporate this silliness. And that’s just what it is – silliness. Getting back to that definition, I think it’s more than just perpetrating and surviving violence; it’s depicting violence that is completely absurd, so as to become a joke more than anything. This is the perfect way to describe Gangster Squad – an absurd joke.

The movie begins with two things that tell you everything you need to know about this movie. The first is a sequence of shots of L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) boxing. The second shows Cohen ordering his henchman to kill a rival gangster by ripping his body in half using two cars driving in opposite directions. The purpose of these two things is 1) that there will be many scenes that are completely pointless, starting with the boxing scene, and 2) Mickey, is in fact, a cartoon gangster. I mean number two almost literally, as Penn is so over the top in his portrayal that he makes Looney Tunes gangsters seem dull. The best way to describe him is as a caricature of a caricature of Al Pacino in Dick Tracy. Yeah, it’s that ridiculous.

We soon learn that it is 1949 and Cohen has turned Los Angeles into a cesspool of crime. At least, that’s what we’re being told, since we get very little evidence of it outside of a brothel and mentions of Cohen paying off cops. In order to take down Cohen, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is told to put together a small squad of cops by his police chief, played by the corpse of Nick Nolte. Seriously, based on his movements and speech, I’m fairly certain Nolte died years ago but his body kept eating things and is being kept mobile by a combination of animatronics and fried cheese. Anyway, Brolin recruits five other cops, each of whom has a single talent. There’s Rocky (Anthony Mackie), who has deadly aim when throwing switch-blades; Conway (Giovanni Ribisi), the gadget man; Max (Robert Patrick), the revolver wielding sharpshooter; Navidad (Michael Pena), Max’s sidekick and mentee, and Jerry (Ryan Gosling), the pretty boy whose purpose may or may be John’s conscience. This last part is as confusing as it sounds as he even calls John out at one point to tell him he has to stop bulldozing his way into things and be smart about things. Alas, John will hear nothing of the sort and continues to lead the squad into situations which would lead to their deaths if not for their cartoonish invulnerability.

Even more confusing is Cohen’s main operation that he is trying to set up – a wire service. The way this is described in the movie makes very little sense beyond “it’s going to make a ton of money.” I assumed it was some sort of sports betting set-up, but the way they describe it sounds more like a telephone service. Either one makes a sort of sense, as Mickey is trying to become more classy, but it really doesn’t matter since we know the Gangster Squad (John’s squad literally names themselves this) is going to take it down at some point. And speaking of classy, Emma Stone plays Grace – Mickey’s girlfriend who doubles as his etiquette coach. She’s also sleeping with Jerry, which has to contradict at least one bit of etiquette. Sadly, this is the extent of her character and she exists as nothing more than eye candy, contributing exactly nothing to the story. Like I said, there are a lot of pointless things in this movie, but at least she’s nice to look at.

For those people who overlook all of the insipidness, the movie will make sure you know it is garbage when the climax rolls around. I’m not even talking about the fact that Jerry and John will storm Mickey’s stronghold, taking on roughly fifty guys wielding tommy guns to their two. It’s that after they kill all of these guys, Mickey utters the following line, “Here comes Santy Claus,” followed by John and Mickey firing their tommy guns at each other at point blank range, through a Christmas tree and surrounding ornaments, without hitting each other. It will then rip off the end of Lethal Weapon by having the two duke it out in front a crowd of cops while water is spraying down on them. Sadly, nobody says “I’m getting’ too old for this shit.”

As the movie mercifully ended, some of the folks in the screening audience started clapping. Really? What exactly were they applauding? Was it the unnecessary amount of gore depicted (like floating chunks of a dead guy in a swimming pool)? Was it Emma Stone’s red dress? Was it Ribisi’s pencil moustache? Or Patrick’s Yosemite Sam moustache? Was it Gosling’s complete unbelievability as a tough guy? I really have no idea, but I’d like to think they were just happy it was over. That, or they really like their cartoons.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back. Even the Acme Corporation would be ashamed of this movie.

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