Maybe the biggest knock on Gangster Squad, the pulpy new mobster movie from Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer, is that we've seen most of this before. Loosely based on true events, and Paul Lieberman's book, there's organized crime and cops fighting it out for the fate of a city, infamous mobster Mickey Cohen (played here by Sean Penn), a determined LAPD squad tasked with taking him down, and a host of gangster movie clichés and predictable plot points fired off like a hail of Tommy gun bullets.
But amidst all the gangland violence and fedoras, there's another noticeably familiar element to Gangster Squad: the Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone pairing, as a ladies' man LAPD sergeant and Cohen's #1 gun moll (respectively, of course). And since current previews play up Gosling and Stone's well-established chemistry almost as much as the shootouts, I thought I'd look at how well their pairing fares the second time around. Is it a repeat of Crazy, Stupid, Love with 1940s slang, or has the spark between two of the most charming actors in Hollywood gone stale?
Once again, Stone's character catches Gosling's eye across a crowded LA bar. Only this time, she's sitting with a table of crooked politicians and mobsters instead of her snarky best friend. Neither's able to stop Gosling from delivering a few cheesy lines though.
As Sgt. Jerry Wooters, Gosling may be playing another in a string of ladies' men, but for the first time in his last few movies, he's actually trying something different here: giving Jerry a high-pitched voice that makes him a distinct character, instead of simply another slightly-modified version of his usual charming self.
As Grace Faraday, Stone doesn't alter her trademark husky voice at all, but it works well with the movie's noir setting, even if the clichéd dialogue she's spouting doesn't. Gosling's Wooters is described as "a sheep in wolf's clothing." As it turns out, that's probably an apt description for his character in Crazy, Stupid, Love too. Swoon away.
Speaking of wolves, nobody gets ripped in half and fed to them right after the opening titles in Crazy, Stupid, Love -- though Steve Carell's character may feel that way. The rampant bloodshed doesn't put much of a damper on Jerry and Grace's affair though.
The Love Triangle:
In Crazy, Stupid, Love, Gosling steals Stone away from a boring lawyer played by Josh Groban. In Gangster Squad, he steals her away from a homicidal mob boss played by Sean Penn. Understandably, there's a little more risk involved there.
The Pillow Talk:
In both, the pair's pillow talk is equally cutesy, before veering into more serious (and in this case, more murder-related) territory. Because nothing sets the mood quite like commenting on the near-certainty you'll both be killed by a jealous mobster.
Once again, Gosling's character agrees to help an older guy (in this case, Josh Brolin's Sgt. O'Mara). In Gangster Squad, though, that help manifests itself in shootouts, not makeover montages. And no one gets slapped.
In both movies, Gosling's character is aggressively warned to stop seeing Stone. With all due respect to Steve Carell, the warning's a little more intimidating here, though no more effective.
The Final Verdict:
Both movies feature strong ensemble casts, with Gosling and Stone's relationship functioning as a major selling point. This time around, their chemistry is a lot like the rest of Gangster Squad: thanks to a lazy, predictable story, it isn't properly developed, or given enough time to go anywhere interesting.
Apparently it takes more than a little added danger to recapture the spark.