PASADENA, Calif. —
But, really, "Gangster Squad" is all about macho posturing — or, more accurately, boys and their toys, which in this case include guns, cars, fedoras, more guns, cigarettes, studied nonchalance and women cosmeticized, coiffed and costumed to look like hard-edged china dolls. As an exercise in fetish worship, "Gangster Squad" trafficks in the same glib violence and excess as Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." But unlike "Django" — which uses spaghetti Western cliches to engage in an audacious but improbably potent interrogation of slavery — "Gangster Squad" doesn't have an idea in its pretty little head.
This is doubly disappointing, because Fleischer made such a fiendishly clever directorial debut with the genre send-up "Zombieland," and because the real-life origins of "Gangster Squad" provide him and screenwriter Will Beall with such a potentially fruitful subtext. In a blink-and-you'll-miss it moment, Parker introduces his driver, Daryl Gates, who alert viewers know will go on to become L.A.'s police captain during some of its most contentious years.
But rather than explore the roots of the LAPD's later corruption in "Gangster Squad," the filmmakers structure the movie as a conventional — if often cartoonishly ludicrous — hero's tale, the eye-for-a-blackened-eye brutality portrayed as the good guys winning by any means necessary. It's fascinating that "Gangster Squad" is opening on the same day as "Zero Dark Thirty," a film that's been speciously accused of endorsing torture in the search for Osama bin Laden. With its high-gloss sheen, hardboiled timbre and love of slow-motion shootouts, it's actually "Gangster Squad" that — in the words of one of its characters — blithely celebrates the bright boys who shoot their way to the top of their class. "Gangster Squad" may earn a gentleman's C for style, but the moral of the story gets a failing grade.
R. Contains strong violence and profanity. 113 minutes. Currently showing at Carmike 10 in Cullman.