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I recently saw a photograph of Sean Penn in a local newspaper. The man looked like a 30-years-older version of Jeff Spicoli with a pretty bad-ass physique even for most men half his age. Whereas Spicoli was a ‘righteous dude’, the man Penn plays in Gangster Squad is decidedly less endearing. As mob boss Mickey Cohen Mr. Penn is just mean. And more than a little bit psycho. Which is cool because the first new Hollywood movie of 2013 delivers a satisfying mix of violence, smart ass dialogue, and an impressive star cast and it is nice that the good guys are going up against a bad guy who is no pushover.

Set in the late 1940s, this is a based-on-true-events tale of an off-the-books group of cops who went after the various businesses of Chicago mobster Cohen after he began working overtime to take control of all the money-making rackets in Los Angeles. This team of tough guys is put together by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) with the blessings of Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte), and it consists of smooth-talking Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), and Officers Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) and Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña). O’Mara plans to hit Cohen where it hurts: his wallet. By attacking and destroying his various operations as and when one of O’Mara’s men learns of them.

It is a simple plan but even simple plans can become complicated. O’Mara’s wife is pregnant, and not very pleased that he’s decided to go after the most dreaded gangster in LA. Wooters gets sweet on Cohen’s special gal, a wannabe actress named Grace Farraday (Emma Stone), which isn’t the best thing for his health. Since Cohen has a lot of corrupt officials in his pocket it isn’t long before people begin questioning the motives and practices of this gang of vigilantes.

Gangster Squad is a fun movie–if you like a movie with lots of gunplay, witty repartee and stylish filmmaking. The film features some very nicely choreographed action sequences and equally well-designed vocal exchanges. I’ve been itching for a movie like this for a while but when I sat down to watch it, I had forgotten that it was directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, which I loved; and Thirty Minutes or Less, which I didn’t). I had heard bad things about the movie going in, but I was pleasantly surprised by what unfolded on screen.

Final Analysis: Director Ruben Fleischer does a great job of corralling the talents of actors as diverse as Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte and Josh Brolin. I suppose only time will tell how it compares to other LA-set crime stories or just gangster movies in general, but I have to say I had a good time watching Gangster Squad.

My Advice: Watch it on the big screen.