A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
You may have noticed that the trailers for "Gangster Squad" are peppered with hyperbolic review quotes provided by syndicated critics of dubious merit. They're a sure sign of a movie's mediocrity, and my favorite blurb hypes "Gangster Squad" as "the best gangster film of the decade!!" Man, what a drag. If that's true, the next seven years are going to be lousy for the world's favorite crime genre.
To be fair, this tawdry dose of pulp fiction ("inspired by real events") is not a complete waste of time. It offers the marginal pleasure of an all-star cast slumming their way through a thicket of routine plotting, almost laughable dialogue and the constant blaze of tommy guns. The latter also resulted in a postponed release: A scene involving machine guns in a movie theater was cut after last year's tragic "The Dark Knight Rises" multiplex killings in Aurora, Colorado, and other scenes were rewritten and re-shot to fill gaps in the narrative.
Not that it mattered much. No amount of tinkering could repair the film's tonal inconsistencies. A comedy specialist stepping into semi-dramatic territory, director Ruben Fleischer scored a modest hit with 2009's giddy, satirical "Zombieland" (he is currently filming a sequel), and delivered plenty of laughs on TV, directing segments of HBO's "Funny or Die Presents" and working with Jimmy Kimmel, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera and Will Ferrell, among others.
In "Gangster Squad," however, Fleischer seems out of his element. His film has the familiar look and feel of a gangster classic, with plenty of dark, burnished hardwoods, shiny vintage cars and meticulous attention to period details of costume, architecture and interior design. Cinematographer Dion Beebe, who earned an Oscar for his work on "Memoirs of a Geisha" (and was nominated for "Chicago"), bathes "Gangster Squad" in a rich palette of smoky shadows and dazzling night-life opulence. Yet for all the production's post-war gloss and moody atmosphere, you still get the sense that Fleischer is barely suppressing an urge to spoof the genre.