Unexpectedly for Hollywood violence business as usual, guns are A Thing We're Talking About right now. So it's understandable, on a surface level, that a movie that stars guns got a demure little January release instead of a splashy autumn rollout. And keeping it on the surface level -- where the film itself lives entirely -- there are also PYTs like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling posing for vintage 1949 movie star pinup posters alongside all the guns. But it stars guns.
It purrs over and pets its guns, it makes guns look very cool, it takes extreme visual pleasure in the power of those guns to rip apart giant Christmas trees, exploding gifts and ornaments in a climactic shootout that kicks off with a bouncy and gigantically silly gesture from King Mobster Sean Penn, who struts toward the shootout bellowing, "HERE COMES SANTY CLAUS!"
To complement the guns, to place them in a safe context, we're treated to a risibly stout-hearted Los Angeles Police Department, overwhelmed on all sides by the entertainingly over-acting Penn's Mickey Cohen, an ex-raging bull now running the entire city and eliminating anyone who dares get in his way. This LAPD has some bad apples who're in cahoots with Cohen, but none of them are a match for tough-talking John O'Mara (Josh Brolin, giving serious mug), an incorruptible good cop, his steadfast, brainy, pregnant wife (Mireille Enos) and his handpicked team of misfit decency enforcers (Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick) whose collective moral code is as rigid as their commitment to speaking in absolutely nothing but noir-ish cliches is deep. Do not try to fight off the running "this is the City of Angels" commentary; you will lose. Here, the good guys win, the bad guys earn their comeuppance, the dames look pretty and the dopey dialogue shoves a grapefruit in your face and shuts you up.
And that's it. You get what you get: two hours of gleaming period pleasure and an undemanding narrative, a competently executed, meatloaf-and-mashed-potatoes mobster movie that, its contemporary bloodshed notwithstanding, could have been made in the year it's set and popping up today on Turner Classic Movies in the middle of the night instead of playing at your local multiplex. There are worse things. A Haunted House comes to mind.