'Gangster Squad' lives in B-movie roots

As if to carefully clue the audience into the peculiar tone of the film, "Gangster Squad," directed by Ruben Fleischer, opens with a quote from "Dracula" and a man being explicitly, cartoonishly ripped in half.

The film has more in common with classic b-movie gangster flicks and violent EC comics "Crime SuspenStories" from the '50s than it does with prestige crime dramas popularized by Coppola and Scorsese.

It's the kind of film that takes its central premise and then runs with it full-blast towards the finale without time for nuance or surprise.

In the film, Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) enlists Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to create a squad of ruffian police officers to hunt gangsters and destroy Mickey Cohen's (Sean Penn) criminal empire.

Over the next two-hours you see exactly that. O'Mara gathers his squadron of single-dimensional crimefighters - Ryan Gosling is a womanizer, Giovanni Ribisi is smart, Robert Patrick is good with guns - and they shoot a lot of bad guys, get caught in car chases, and blow up a lot of buildings.

The film intentionally embraces every cliche of the gangster story, but in such a way that it's almost charmingly blunt.

Your mileage with the film will depend on your tolerance for watching Hollywood's finest essentially playing cops and robbers with about the same level of depth as you'd expect from children playing the game.