Penn’s ‘Gangster’ Gore; Smith’s Diva; ‘Outlaws’: Movies

Inspired by a true story and a century of wise guys, flatfoots and better movies, Ruben Fleischer’s garish, hardboiled “Gangster Squad” rat-a-tats its way from one misfire to the next.

Postponed after the Aurora multiplex massacre, the ’40s-era flick arrives minus a controversial scene depicting a shootout at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. But a nightclub bloodbath remains.

Set in Los Angeles 1949, “Gangster Squad” recounts the extra-legal adventures of a team of L.A. cops on a mission to take down mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).

Presented here as a multi-cultural Magnificent Six, the squad includes a square-jawed war hero (Josh Brolin), a pretty-boy ladies man (Ryan Gosling), a black beat cop (Anthony Mackie), an aging cowboy (Robert Patrick), an electronics whiz (Giovanni Ribisi) and a gung-ho Mexican rookie (Michael Pena).

Each comes equipped with a signifying trait and little else: the cop throws a wicked knife, the cowboy’s a sharpshooter, the whiz has a conscience (and a cute kid).

“Gangster Squad” was adapted by former L.A. detective Will Beall from a book by journalist Paul Lieberman, though any authenticity is washed out by Fleischer’s cartoon-style directing and a fussy visual design that’s as contrived as composer Steve Jablonsky’s heavy-handed score.

Flaky Piety

It should all be a lot more fun than it is, or at least as rollicking as “Zombieland,” Fleischer’s clever 2009 outing. Some pious soul-searching near the end is altogether insufferable.

Brolin plays it painfully straight, while Penn hams it up under so much facial putty he looks like a “Dick Tracy” crook.

Gosling, affecting an airy, high-pitched delivery, is even sillier.

“Who’s the tomato?” he says, eyeing a nightclub beauty played by Emma Stone.

She’s Cohen’s moll, and she’s trouble.

Probably hangs with Jessica Rabbit.

“Gangster Squad,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)

Maggie Smith

“Quartet” offers the same pleasures as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”: fine old British troupers munching scenery while demonstrating that no matter how decrepit you grow, you never have to shed your joie de vivre.

The setting is a tasteful but strapped retirement home for musicians, which begins to buzz on the arrival of a renowned diva (Maggie Smith, playing her 1,000th dragon, perfectly).

Almost at once the machinations begin to draft her into a performance of “Bella Figlia dell’Amore,” a quartet from “Rigoletto,” for the home’s fund-raising gala. Her participation will allow the organizers to jack up ticket prices, but she doesn’t want an audience to hear her weakened voice.

The other potential quartet members are Billy Connolly (jaunty), Pauline Collins (dotty) and Tom Courtenay (mournful but still handsome, so his past entanglement with Smith’s diva is entirely credible). Michael Gambon swishes around in a caftan, having a ball as an imperious old opera director.

It’s an oddly safe vehicle for Dustin Hoffman to have chosen as his late-career directing debut. Heavy on pathos and thick with zingers, material like this is so pat that it feels a little disreputable. Still, it’s irresistible.

“Quartet,” from the Weinstein Company, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *** 1/2 (Seligman)

‘Baytown Outlaws’

For a movie that’s as violent, profane, incoherent, ugly and dumb as “The Baytown Outlaws,” it’s not bad.

A good-looking schemer (Eva Longoria) hires three criminal (or maybe criminally insane) Alabama rednecks, the Oodie brothers (Clayne Crawford, Daniel Cudmore and Travis Fimmel), to kidnap a wheelchair-bound boy from the crime boss who’s her ex-husband (Billy Bob Thornton).

The boss unleashes theme squads -- homicidal women, blacks and Native Americans -- to pulp them. The biggest disappointment is the women, a gang of supervixens straight out of “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.”

The screenplay is the work of two Tarantino-besotted young Southerners, Barry Battles (who also directed) and Griffin Hood. They’re hardly prodigies, but they had the energy to get their movie made and to attract some recognizable names (Andre Braugher is there as a corrupt sheriff). They may have a future; they may even have talent.

But their timing is terrible. Though the bloodbaths are wildly over the top, the comedy feels bleak. In the wake of Aurora and Newtown, the glee has leaked out.

“The Baytown Outlaws,” from Phase 4 Films, is playing in New York. Rating: ** (Seligman)

What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Lance Esplund on art.

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