"42"

What's not to like about baseball movies? Even if you're not a big fan of the sport, there is no denying that it lends itself well to creating cinematic excitement. And when you can throw in some genuine history about America's messy lurches toward racial equality, you've got yourself a winner.

While the story of Jackie Robinson's triumphant but difficult act of integrating major league baseball in 1947 was so well known as to be a cultural baseline for all of those lived through it, those of us from subsequent generations can be fuzzy on the details from that tumultuous time.

This film reconstitutes those painful memories of baseball's -- and America's -- pervasive racism and leaves the viewer with no place to hide from the ugliness of the era. But this is a hopeful movie, so we're reminded of how sport can be a unifying and leveling force.

Chadwick Boseman does a splendid job playing Robinson, showing us a man full of anger who was able to control that rage in order to accomplish a larger good. Harrison Ford also delivers a commanding performance as Branch Rickey, the crotchety, Bible-quoting Brooklyn Dodgers president who hires Robinson.

For all of these reasons, "42" was a big hit in the Alderman house, except, interestingly, with my baseball-loving 13-year-old son. The film's slower pace (like a good baseball game itself) and all of the historical context didn't move him as it did the rest of us.

Too intense for most kids, while some teens may get bored. (PG-13: Racist language). 2 hours and 8 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 3 stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 2 stars

Adults: 3 stars

Seniors: 3 ½ stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- baseball + real-life triumph = home run.

"Gangster Squad"

We can't get enough gangsters in our lives, so Hollywood keeps serving up heaping helpings of the rakish bad boys. Set in post-World War II Los Angeles, we watch the almost-true tale of Jewish mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who tries to consolidate power through a series of bloody attacks on his rivals.

The tolerant Angelenos can take it no more, so the aging police chief (Nick Nolte) forms an off-the-books posse of the few remaining honest cops on his force to break up the mob's influence. Josh Brolin leads the crew with his square chin and an overly stiff "Dragnet" style of acting.

While a bit too self-consciously hip, the film delivers on its core promise of a glitzy cop movie with lots of action. While not in the same league us "GoodFellas" or "The Departed," if you're looking for plenty of hot lead and dead bodies, you've come to the right place.

To be clear, you will need to temper your expectations, as Ruben Fleischer's weak directing results in subpar performances from otherwise top-notch actors. Everyone plays an overly broad caricature of their part, as if the only context they were given was to read an old "Dick Tracy" comic book.

Too violent for kids and teens younger than 14. (R: Violence, language, drugs and sex). 1 hour and 53 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 2½ stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 3 stars

Adults: 2½ stars

Seniors: 2½ stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- unremarkable but still enjoyable mob movie

J.B. Alderman lives in Piedmont and can be reached at jason@alderman.net.