Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in Gangster Squad.

The release date of Gangster Squad was delayed after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, due to a scene depicting violence in a movie theater. That scene, which was featured in the trailer, has been removed.

Well, they should’ve scrapped the whole picture. This movie is a mess.

Gangster Squad depicts a fictional account of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “under the table” efforts to remove gangster Mickey Cohen (played here by a truly awful Sean Penn) from power. While next to nothing in this movie actually happened, I can forgive a little artistic license when it comes to a gangster pic.

What I can’t forgive is cartoon caricatures, terrible performances, a misguided directorial tone and a crappy screenplay.

The film is set in 1949 Los Angeles, where Cohen has a firm grip on organized crime and the cops. Well-meaning LAPD Chief Parker (a typically grizzly Nick Nolte) tells brave Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to leave his badge at home; gather a squad of badasses; and disrupt Cohen’s operations.

The squad includes soft-voiced Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), an officer who plays with his lighter a lot. There’s also the brainiac (Giovanni Ribisi) who will spend much of the movie wearing headphones and tinkering with things.

There’s the knife-wielding officer, Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), who will throw a knife at someone’s hand in a crowded nightclub, even though he’s a cop and probably shouldn’t be doing things like that. And, finally, there’s the comic-book hero (Robert Patrick) and his sidekick (Michael Peña), two wisecracks who are great with their guns.

Director Ruben Fleischer is shooting for an authentic late-’40s gangster-film feel, he but achieves something more akin to parody. The film feels like a bunch of usually decent actors are playing dress-up with their toy guns; they all seem lost.

Emma Stone wastes her time as perhaps the film’s most-bizarre character. She is Cohen’s etiquette coach (rather than making her a straight-up hooker), somebody who is sleeping with a monster and then two-timing him with Gosling’s Wooters.

Good luck trying to make that character sympathetic. They dress Stone in heavy makeup and flashy dresses, and feed her terrible dialogue. She’s completely wrong for the role, although I would have a hard time picking somebody right for it.

Penn has chewed scenery before (I Am Sam, Casualties of War). This time out, he doesn’t just chew the scenery; he’s a freaking wood-chipper. I appreciate Penn as an actor, but sometimes—just sometimes—he can be terrible. This is one of those times.

Regrettably, the usually reliable Gosling is just as bad, and perhaps worse. He decides to utilize a voice that makes him sound like a 12 year-old kid doing a lame James Cagney impersonation. It’s bad to the point of distraction, as is his action of constantly flipping his lighter. We get it, Ryan Gosling … you learned how to flip your lighter, ’40s style. Now knock it off.

Gangster Squad lacks originality, a sense of purpose, style, class, Michael Keaton (although it feels like his Johnny Dangerously character could pop out any moment) and a basic overall reason for being. The problem wasn’t the violent movie-theater scene they had to excise. The whole damn thing stinks.

Gangster Squad is playing at theaters across the valley.