The Mob is dead, at least as far as movie entertainment is concerned. Some observers feel that the Mafia’s decline — with family heads in jail, their organizations are in shambles — has led to their transformation on the big screen from fearfully dramatic figures to comic caricatures. But could it be the other way around? Once Hollywood stopped showing us the Mob as the best soap opera going — complete with that old American favorite: lots of bloodshed — and tried to get us to laugh at them, did that change our perception of them?
Actually, no. Martin Scorsese may have moved on (his next film, Bringing Out the Dead, sounds like ER meets that spooky kid who sees dead people in The Sixth Sense), but great Mob drama is still alive on TV — see HBO’s excellent The Sopranos — and most of the comedies are duds. The Mafia’s movie image is ripe for parody, as Analyze This demonstrated so ably, but as Mickey Blue Eyes and Mafia! show, Mob comedies are usually more hit than miss.
An Englishman in Noo Yawk
I must be psychic. See, I guessed right away that the obnoxious, rude truckers delivering works of art to auctioneer Michael Felgate (Hugh Grant: Extreme Measures) in the opening scene of Mickey Blue Eyes would, by half an hour into the film, turn into obsequious, fawning toads afraid to piss him off. How could I have possibly known this?
Well, it might have something to do with the fact that Mickey never bothers with any attempt at humor that’s less than obvious. In fact, any joke that you haven’t already seen in the preview or on TV commercials for the film you’ll see coming a mile away, like the truckers.
Michael is in love with Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn: Sliding Doors), and though they’ve only been dating for five minutes and he hasn’t even been introduced to her family yet, he asks her to marry him. Romantic-comedy-only complications ensue that allow him to meet her Mobbed-up family, headed by Sonny Corleone– I mean, James Caan (This Is My Father), Gina’s father, and filled out with about a dozen actors who seem to make a career out of playing mobsters, like Joe Viterelli (Jelly in Analyze This, but nowhere near as amusing here, though that’s not his fault). For reasons it’s not worth going in to, Michael has to later pretend to be a mobster — Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes from Kansas City or somewhere — and Mickey, already at a pretty low point, devolves further into a poor remake of FX.
Mickey Blue Eyes is a sloppy, boring mess. Instead of allowing its situations and attempts at humor to arise from its characters, it relies on sitcomish antics, cheap jokes, and the conventions of the genre to pull the story along. Not only is the stuttering, squinchy-faced Michael, for example, the typical romantic-comedy hero who’s so asexual that you can’t imagine that any woman would want him, never mind the smart and sexy Gina, but easy cracks at his “floppy hair” and “funny run” make him even less appealing. (We’re meant to imply, perhaps, that Gina likes him because he’s not the kind of macho jerk she sees in her family, but Michael goes too far in the opposite direction.) It’s only because this is a “romantic comedy” that we know he and Gina will end up together, not because of any heat or chemistry between them.
Senseless humor abounds, like the name of the restaurant Gina’s father owns: The La Trattoria. Wouldn’t an Italian know that “The La” is redundant? Even Michael knows that. Gina has a moronic brother who, apparently, has a “174 IQ,” but he’s an idiot, and whenever Caan asks him what’s wrong with him, he says, “I dunno.” Not only does the brother serve no purpose within the story whatsoever, he’s not even funny. A potential client (Mark Margolis: Pi) of Michael’s auction house is constantly being toured around the place, and after numerous assurances of the house’s respectability and discretion, he keeps busting in on all the ridiculous shenanigans Michael finds himself involved in. This kind of comedy can work (see anything by Monty Python), but here it feels forced and mechanical, like the entire cast is just going through the motions. And for good measure, the 80s tune “We Are Family” is trotted out and put to a use that fails to inspire laughs.
But the best example of how lazy Mickey Blue Eyes is relates to the time frame of its story. Michael proposes to Gina after they’ve been dating for three months. Time passes. Michael and Gina’s father are fitted for tuxes for the wedding. Gina surprises Michael with a celebration for their — wait for it — three-month anniversary of their first date. And then comes the huge church wedding and even huger reception. So either Michael and Gina planned an entire humongous wedding in a matter of days — including inviting hundreds of people — or the filmmakers cared so little about their movie that they couldn’t be bothered to change the one little line that would fix this problem.
I’m guessing it’s the latter. And since we’ve already proved I’m psychic, we know I’m right.
Funny like a clown?
I thought Mickey Blue Eyes was uninspired and painfully unfunny, but I hadn’t seen Mafia! yet.
Jim Abrahams was out of really good jokes by Airplane 2, or maybe he needs creative input from the Zucker brothers, his partners in the Airplane movies and the brilliant Police Squad! TV series (of which the movies are a pale imitation). Whatever the case, it didn’t deter him from cowriting and directing Mafia!
The story of the Cortino crime family, Mafia! (also known as Jane Austen’s Mafia, and that’s the whole joke — imagine what someone really clever could do with that title) is about what you’d expect from Abrahams: easy sight gags, juvenile sexual innuendo, scatological humor, and the inevitable, endless fart jokes. Some of the sight gags work: in a Mob-run casino, table games include Chutes and Ladders and Candyland, and slot machines have names like Blow It Here and Last Red Cent. Most of the rest of it doesn’t, unless you’re still in elementary school.
Mostly playing off The Godfather movies and Casino — in fact, the film opens not with a parody but a direct lifting of Casino‘s opener: the exploding car — Mafia! follows the child Vincenzo Cortino from the town of Salmonella (har, har) in Sicily at the turn of the century to his beginnings in organized crime in New York City as a young man, as well as his son Anthony’s (Jay Mohr: Small Soldiers, Paulie) life of crime. The story is incidental — most of the humor has nothing to do with it. There is some anachronistic record-scratching, like rappers do, and references to the Grateful Dead back in 1901 Sicily. Silly sound effects punctuate any action we’re meant to laugh at. Lloyd Bridges, as the elderly Vincenzo Cortino, does bumbling pratfalls and senile shtick that’s disturbing to watch in someone so frail looking (this was Bridges final movie before his death). There are why-bother references to everything from Monica Lewinsky to Jurassic Park to Riverdance.
There are a few good stabs at humor, but they’re buried. I like Jay Mohr, and I think he has a nice comedic touch (see Paulie), but his subdued, deadpan delivery is lost in all the over-the-top buffoonery going on here. I almost missed his tossed-off line to a parking-lot valet: “Keep the car.” He explains to his girlfriend — played by Christina Applegate in the Diane Keaton role — that he has to help his father and brother because “they’re like family to me.” It’s the fact that he doesn’t emphasize these lines that makes them funny, but that kind of subtlety is wasted here.
Oh, and “We Are Family” is here, too. I declare a moratorium henceforth on the use of that song in anything having anything to do with the Mob.
Mickey Blue Eyes
viewed at a public multiplex screening
viewed at home on a small screen