This Week at the Movies

Both 'Gangster Squad' and 'Struck by Lightning' aren't bad, but merely average.

Those hoping for the next mob movie classic might be disappointed that “Gangster Squad” is, at best, a minor pulp entertainment.

The film is not as bad as you might have heard in a majority of its reviews. There is a fair amount of violence and nearly as much hammy line delivery.

But the film’s aim appears to be an amusing action film, rather than the type of crime picture that makes critics and the Academy Awards take notice.

In the film, Sean Penn seems to be having fun going over-the-top as East Coast gangster Mickey Cohen, who decides that running the crime scene in Los Angeles is his destiny.

“Gangster Squad” is set in the years following World War II, so many of its cop characters are combat veterans.

Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is handpicked by police chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to form a squad to take down Cohen’s enterprise, which is rapidly growing and becoming more vicious.

O’Mara enlists the aid of officer Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), also a vet and a lothario, as well as a motley crew of cops who don’t mind breaking the rules to catch crooks. This group includes Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena.

Emma Stone pops up as Cohen’s moll, but she’s not as dangerous as your typical noir femme fatale. She soon becomes involved with Wooters.

Story-wise, there’s little to tell. The squad begins raiding Cohen’s warehouses and nightclubs and violence ensues – lots of it. A man is pulled in two after being chained to two vehicles, while another three are burned to death in an elevator.

Director Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) shoots the carnage with flare, but most of the characters come off as cartoon figures, despite that the cast appear to be having a good time of it.

“Gangster Squad” is occasionally amusing, but mostly forgettable.

Brian Dannelly impressed me with his sly 2004 debut “Saved!” and then appeared to fall off the filmmaking map, opting instead to helm episodes of several TV series.

“Struck by Lightning” is his second feature and, much like his first, it’s a snarky comedy set in a high school.

“Saved!” followed the travails of a young woman who became pregnant and was ostracized at her strict Catholic school.

Dannelly’s latest picture is the story of a young man who is also frowned upon by his peers, but it’s not hard to see why.

Chris Colfer is Carson, an overachiever who is completely confident that he will go on to become a great journalist, listing off all the newspapers and magazines in which he knows he will be published.

It’s too bad he is killed after being – wait for it - struck by lightning. I’m not giving anything away here as this scene opens the film.

Through flashback, we see the scenes leading up to this event, including the return of Carson’s absent father (Dermot Mulroney), which wreaks havoc upon the life of his sour mother (Allison Janney).

Meanwhile, Carson and his only friend, Malerie (Rebel Wilson), have devised a plan to ensure that he will be accepted at Northwestern University. The duo intends to create a literary magazine, but realize they need submissions from the school’s lethargic student body.

Therefore, they decide to blackmail a number of students – the head cheerleader, who is having an affair with a coach, as well as two closeted gay students who are involved, etc. – to write pieces for the magazine.

These hijinks are occasionally funny, including a subplot in which one of the blackmailed is pretending to be a foreign exchange student with a sexy accent in order to meet women.

But, overall, “Struck by Lightning” is missing the satiric spark that ignited “Saved!” While that previous film often veered hilariously into the outrageous, Dannelly’s latest attempt feels too forced.

Much like “Gangster Squad,” it’s not a bad film, but not one I could wholeheartedly recommend.


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