"Gangster Squad" is a film that fails to fire ... or inspire.

Set in 1940s Los Angeles, "Gangster Squad" follows a team of vigilante police officers lead by Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), who are tasked with ridding the city of boxer-turned-mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).

Brolin and Penn have played adversaries before, earning Oscar nominations (and a win in Penn's case) for the brilliant film "Milk." Sadly, their characters in "Gangster Squad" lack the same depth. The cast also includes Emma Stone, who plays Mickey's girlfriend, and Ryan Gosling as the cop who tries to steal her away from her mob beau.

The problems lie less in the acting and more in the totally predictable plot. Unlike "L.A. Confidential," which "Gangster Squad" will invariably be compared to, there are no twists and turns. It's the basic good versus evil story, with lots of guns (and smoking). And while the production design is nice, it lacks the noir stylishness that "L.A. Confidential" has.

Brolin and Penn do the best they can, playing angry and gruff very well. Stone, with her doe eyes, almost seems too young for her role; like a teenager trying on her mom's fancy dresses. Her attraction to Gosling seems more like an infatuation than anything else. The only thing red hot between the two is Emma's lipstick.

Gosling, who will draw many young females, speaks with a weird high voice and delivers lines that are at times laughable. In fact, the comedy (whether intentional or not) is what kept the film from being totally contrived (director Ruben Fleischer used humor to great effect in "Zombieland").

There are a few bright spots. Giovanni Ribisi shines as a tech specialist (yes, they had them in the '40s) torn between his family and the squad. Mireille Enos is great as O'Mara's tortured wife. The gunfights are loud and bloody, which is what you would expect during these violent times.

With its cast, "Gangster Squad" has the potential to be so much more than it is. It scratches the surface of racial tensions in L.A., falls short of being stylish, and just feels generic.

Rating: drab (2 out of 4 stars)

By Lawrence Yee


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