Mob stories rarely work as comedy. For every Get Shorty or Analyze This we seem to get a dozen Mickey Blue Eyeses and Jane Austen’s Mafia!s. For the comedies to gell, it seems, the mafia milieu needs to bump up against another idiosyncratic subculture: Mob Meets Hollywood, Mob Meets Therapy. The Crew tries it on with Mob Meets Old Fart… if there could be said to be an “Old Fart” subculture.
We’re still counting the dozen since Analyze This, and The Crew is one of ’em.
A bunch of oldfellas with names like Bats and Brick spend their days sitting on the porch of the Raj Mahal retirement hotel in Miami Beach, watching the bikini babes stroll by with their underwear-model boyfriends. Life is winding down for them, and they just want to live out their remaining days in peace. But the fleabag Raj is being renovated — lots of pastels — and the rents jacked up. The duffers will be out on their asses unless they do something to stop this injustice. So they decide to make up for missed opportunities and convince NASA to let them fly the space shuttle just once–
No, wait. That was Space Cowboys. But you’d be forgiven for mistaking The Crew for that other recent entry in the Old Fart Film Festival, though the latter doesn’t have anywhere near the charm of the former. Eastwood’s flyboys at least had some vigor in them, for all their jokes about getting on in years. The Crew‘s crew seems to do nothing but make jokes about prostate glands and impotency, reminisce about happier days when urination wasn’t a chore, and scope out senior discounts at neighborhood restaurants. And the worst of it is that the actors portraying these guys simply aren’t that old: the eldest, Seymour Cassel (Rushmore), as Tony “The Mouth” Donato, is only 65; Burt Reynolds (Mystery, Alaska, Bean), as Joey “Bats” Pistella, is 64; Dan Hedaya (Shaft, The Hurricane), as Mike the Brick, is 60; and Richard Dreyfuss as Bobby Bartellemeo is just 53, fer pete’s sake. None of these actors deserve to be playing characters with prominent hearing aids and dozens of prescription meds on the daily menu.
Yet that’s the form The Crew‘s attempt at comedy takes, when it isn’t borrowing liberally and shamelessly from Goodfellas, the best mob movie ever made. It comes off as humorous tribute at first: The film starts with an homage to Goodfellas‘ opening — the late-night drive to dump a body — and early on amuses with a clever parody of Scorsese’s famous long Copacabana take. But by the time Bats drops a reference to “the Lufthansa heist” — the centerpiece of Goodfellas‘ action — and Bobby, in his unnecessary and annoying narration, derides himself and his friends as now merely “schnooks” with jobs — echoing Henry Hill’s final words, in a narration that actually deepens his character — you can’t help but feel that screenwriter Barry Fanaro could have tried a little harder to write his own dialogue and create his own story rather than ride on the coattails of a great film.
And the story, the characters, the jokes… all need work. As the guys concoct a moderately illegal scheme to keep their homes, The Crew rockets wildly from cartoonish violence to cheap sentimentality, and the characters attitudes and motivations shift with the prevailing winds of the plot. None of the guys can bring themselves to shoot a corpse — ostensibly because it’s been so long since they’ve used guns, but actually because we’re meant to laugh at this — but later none of them have any trouble shooting at live people — because now Fanaro can’t find an easy out for their situation, like he could with the corpse. Police detective Olivia Neal (Carrie-Anne Moss: The Matrix) despises her partner and former boyfriend, Steve Menteer (Jeremy Piven: Very Bad Things, Grosse Pointe Blank, who’s like a low-rent Jon Favreau), yet she hangs out with him after work for no good reason. And by a startling and highly unlikely coincidence, Olivia, who is investigating the trouble the old mobsters have caused, turns out to be the long-lost daughter for whom Bobby has been searching for years.
It’s bad enough that Richard Dreyfuss has to shuffle around like a geezer — then again, I’ve felt embarrassed for actors in films before. But The Crew afforded me a new experience: I was ashamed for the rat that has a cameo here, and ashamed of the filmmakers for making a joke of its suffering. The poor thing’s distress is obviously simulated, of course, but there’s something about trying to squeeze hilarity out of the pain of a defenseless creature that makes me extremely uncomfortable.
Still, The Crew could have been worse. It could have been The Whole Nine Yards.
Just shoot me
I hate Matthew Perry. I do. I hate him. With a passion. He’s the primary reason I have vowed never to consume a movie in which any Friend appears, and I’m kicking myself for having broken this vow. His ineptitude is breathtaking — he conveys every emotion through doughy, slack-jawed stares. He is the most aggressively unappealing “actor” since Ron Jeremy. The best that can be said for him is that he’s a smidgen less repulsive than Matthew Lillard.
And yet, somehow, he managed to snag a prominent role in The Whole Nine Yards, perhaps on the basis that few other performers are willing to run into doors, lamps, windows, and other everyday objects with so little regard for grace or dignity, either professional or personal. It makes me want to cry to think what he must have gotten paid for this.
The Whole Nine Yards is Mob Meets Dentistry. The mob here is the Hungarian one — bet you didn’t know they had one — and Perry is the dentist, one Nicholas “Oz” Oseransky. Which means we are subjected to lots of toothbrushing and gargling on Oz’s part, some in disgusting closeup. Anyway, when the Hungarian mob’s top contract killer, Jimmy “The Tulip” Tudeski (Bruce Willis: Disney’s The Kid, The Sixth Sense), moves in next door to Oz and his wife, she takes the opportunity to request that Jimmy off her husband, “Do me a favor and die” being her standard greeting for Oz. Sophie Oseransky is played by Rosanna Arquette, sporting the most hideous French-Canadian accent you can imagine — our story takes place in Montreal for no reason other than it’s cheap to make a movie in Canada. Or else maybe we’re supposed to get a Mob Meets Those Wacky French kind of thing, because there certainly are some lame Gallic jokes present. Not that that makes the movie any more tolerable.
There are gags about suicide, one-liners about bodily fluids, and the use of puke as a punchline. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, along comes Kevin Pollak (End of Days) as Hungarian mob boss Janni Gogolack. You thought Arquette’s accent was bad? Pollak sounds like he’s from New Jersey, except he substitutes “w” for “v” and wice wersa, so that he can speak of “a man of wision” and tell us about the things that he “vants.” It’s enough to make you run screaming from the room.
Perry bounces off the walls — literally — and bangs his head on things quite a bit while Jimmy, his henchdude Frankie Figs (Michael Clarke Duncan: The Green Mile, Armageddon), Oz’s dental assistant Jill St. Claire (Amanda Peet: Isn’t She Great), and Sophie engage in a round-robin of blackmail and murder for hire. Bring a vomit bag for when Oz gets involved with Jimmy’s wife, Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge: Dog Park, Species II) — they start off parodying, unintentionally, classic film noir, with her as the femme fatale and him as the clueless dork, in a scene that’s like watching a high-school production of Dashiell Hammett, but you’ll be really queasy by the time you have to think about the likelihood of them having sex, and then have to witness the afterglow. Ewww.
Meanwhile, multiple contract killers just can’t bring themselves to kill Oz — they all think he’s simply the nicest guy, “one exceedingly sweet man,” says Frankie. Me, I’d kill him for free. Cynthia eventually tells Oz that “maybe this feeling I’ve been having in the pit of my stomach, maybe it’s love.” No, honey, it’s nausea.