The Hollywoodland sign, the Los Angeles Observatory, South-Central’s Central Avenue, and, of course, Chinatown all make a dutiful appearance. So do lesser-known landmarks like Slapsy Maxie’s Hollywood nightclub and the Garden of Allah apartments, where Chandler and other luminaries once lived.
There’s big-band music, squads of vintage cars, a touch of “Dragnet”-style narration. And when Wooters wants to know who Grace is after first spying her across a crowded room, he asks a friend in typical hard-boiled fashion, “Who’s the tomato?”
Yet, for all of that, emotional resonance and any sense of real danger are about as thin as an L.A. snowfall. Despite the constant barrage of gunfire, the bad guys can’t hit the side of a Studebaker and there’s absolutely no chemistry between Stone and Gosling (who were paired in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” to much better effect).
Everyone involved, including Penn, seems to be playing dress-up.
The only moment where you realize this is indeed about real people is when Chief Parker’s assistant is introduced as Darryl Gates, the controversial LAPD inspector and, later, chief who did indeed begin his career working for Parker. Anyone who lived in L.A. in the late 20th century is aware of what would become of Gates (who was ousted in the ‘90s in the wake of the riots following the Rodney King beating and subsequent trial of the cops who did it) and how the LAPD’s tarnished reputation wouldn’t be scrubbed clean with the downfall of Cohen.
Even though the saga of L.A. corruption has been the fodder for transcendent fiction for generations, there’s still a great movie to be made from such colorful source material.
The biggest crime in “Gangster Squad” is that it doesn’t even come close.