‘Gangster Squad’ is Hollywood at its biggest, and close to its best

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(Photo: Warner Bros.)

(Photo: Warner Bros.)

(Photo: Warner Bros.)

(Photo: Warner Bros.)

DENVER — There’s plenty of firepower in “Gangster Squad.” And Ultimately, the film hits its target, but falls just short of a bull’s-eye.

Mobster films have been a staple of Hollywood since the start. “Gangster Squad” doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel, but adds some refreshing spins.

The story centers on Los Angeles in the years just after World War II. The town is corrupt, ruled by a brutal yet flashy gangster named Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Cohen has bribed enough cops and judges to have free rein in the City of Angels, and now he’s got bigger aspirations.

Against these odds, a small team of officers assemble to work off the books, and under the radar. Led by  Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), the Gangster Squad fights fire with firepower, using whatever means necessary to break the will and the rule of Cohen.

I loved the action in this film. And the pacing.

The actors opted to bring a contemporary style to their roles — not a trace of “why you dirty rat.”  Penn is spellbinding as Cohen, and Brolin is a joy to watch. The sets and costumes are lush and stylized. And above all, the story is based in truth.

These were real men; this was a real fight.

It’s got all the elements I love, and I truly enjoyed the film. Bottom line: I had fun, which is reason enough to spend the cash for a ticket. But it won’t win awards. It stops at good, instead of aspiring for great.

There’s a line in this film, as a seasoned lawman advises his apprentice: “Aim where he’s gonna be, not where he is.” This film doesn’t quite know where to aim.

It’s got the potential to be among the genre’s finest — think “L.A. Confidential” and ” Bugsy.” It’s visually stunning, The story’s compelling, and the actors work overtime. But at critical moments, the film veers from brilliance to cliche, and real depth seems just out of reach. More than once, The script nearly channels  “Dick Tracy,” the realism in the acting sabotaged by the corniness of the lines.

I recommend “Gangster Squad” without hesitation. It’s Hollywood at it’s biggest, but just  not quite best.

“Gangster Squad” is rated R, and opens in theaters this Friday.

Parente’s Verdict:  7.5 stars out of 10

Catch our exclusive interviews with the cast of “Gangster Squad,” all this week at 10 a.m. on the “Everyday Show.”

Want Parente’s verdict on all that Hollywood has to offer? Click here to check out his ratings on CriticsChoice.com. And don’t forget to tune in to our sister station, KWGN, for his live coverage of the Critic’s Choice Awards on Jan. 10 at 6 p.m.