Film review: 'Gangster Squad' has cool style, carbon-copy story
Published: January 12, 2013 02:07PM
Updated: January 16, 2013 10:25AM
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This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Sean Penn, left, as Mickey Cohen and Josh Brolin, as Sgt. John O'Mara in "Gangster Squad." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Wilson Webb)

Dressing up and playing cops-and-robbers apparently still holds its appeal with some Hollywood stars, which explains why the needless and needlessly violent “Gangster Squad” exists.

Set in Los Angeles, 1949, the story follows a tough police detective, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), as he’s tasked by the L.A. Police Chief (Nick Nolte) to wage war on the gang boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), to drive down his criminal operations through not-so-legal means. O’Mara assembles a group of equally tough cops, including the smooth Det. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling). Jerry, by the way, is having an affair with Mickey’s girlfriend, Grace (Gosling’s “Crazy, Stupid, Love” co-star, Emma Stone), which could have fatal consequences if Mickey ever finds out.

The movie claims to be “inspired by true events,” and based on Paul Lieberman’s book, but director Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) seems even more inspired by past gangster movies — from Penn’s Cagney-like scenery-chewing to a storyline echoing Brian DePalma’s “The Untouchables.” The pacing is choppy (partly because a scene in a movie theater was removed after the Aurora, Colo., shooting), but the production looks lush and stylish.

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‘Gangster Squad’

Opens today at theaters everywhere; rated R for strong violence and language; 113 minutes.