Sean Penn plays a mobster with twisted relish in 'Gangster Squad' (+trailer)

'Gangster Squad' mostly squanders its great cast, which includes Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Nick Nolte.

Wilson Webb/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'Gangster Squad' stars Sean Penn.

“Gangster Squad” is a deliberately retro crime thriller about the rise and fall of Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen, played by Sean Penn with such twisted relish that at times he resembles a gargoyle – or maybe Gollum. Penn is always entertaining when he’s playing characters drunk with depravity. “Gangster Squad” could use more of him, despite a top-drawer cast that includes Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, and Anthony Mackie.

Most of them are wasted (especially Peña) in subpar bang-bang theatrics that look like discards from “L.A. Confidential” or “The Untouchables.” Brolin’s character heads up the titular squad to rid the city of Mickey and the Mafia. Director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriter Will Beall can’t decide whether to make a spoof or a serious drama, so they wrongheadedly attempt both. Grade: C (Rated R for strong violence and language.)

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