Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: Mafia!

Version I Watched: Recently upgraded from the VHS edition I've had for years to a blu-ray copy. Picked it up for a good deal paired with The Crew, another comedic mobster movie.

History: With a budget of $10 Million it was able to earn back triple that at just over $30 Million worldwide. It was met with mostly negative reception upon it's released. The movie's original, full title is Jane Austen's Mafia! It's kept in the title card at the beginning of the movie but for the most part it's been removed from the movie's home video box art. This was, strangely enough, because of confusion and the audience just not getting the joke. While this is technically Llyod Bridge's last movie, the movie he made just before this one (Meeting Daddy) was released two years later.

Personal History: I have seen this one a lot. Not as many times as other titles like this one (Naked Gun for example), but one I appreciate and still laugh at.

Review: The age of a good spoof comedy is pretty much behind us. Either that or we're waiting for a new advent of quality in the spoofs that come up. There was something special that happened to comedic films between the late 70s and early 90s. These comedies came out that were not just a parody but took their comedy in a completely different direction than comedies that came before. And I think the best way to describe it is "realism." Most comedies, while not realistic in every sense, are still grounded in reality. The spoofs I'm referencing that were made famous by Jim Abrahams, the Zucker Brothers, and Mel Brooks are hilarious not just because they deliver their jokes straight faced but also because they sacrifice realism for a gut bursting laugh. Let me go even farther into what I mean. I mean jokes like in Airplane II when a character says, "You're putting those people up there in Jeopardy!" And cut to a shot in the plane and the passengers are literally playing Jeopardy. No attention brought to it before or after, it's just there for the sake of a joke. These are some of my favorite types of movies but there hasn't been a good one in years. The last one that came close was one of the earlier Scary Movies and even looking back on those they are not as good as I remember. Somewhere in the 90s was when this type of movie lost it's charm. There were still some good ones released but you could tell it was on it's way out. One of them was Wrongfully Accused, and another was Mafia.

In case you haven't noticed up to this point this movie is specifically a spoof of The Godfather. It has jokes rooted from or referencing other titles as well but for the most part it's in with the Italian gangster movies. This is seen right off the bat with Jay Mohr doing his best Italian impersonation giving the opening narration just as he starts up a car that explodes. As the story continues it jumps between the past and the present in a way like The Godfather Part II. The movie opens with Vincenzo Cortino (Lloyd Bridges) as a child and coming to America. It's a great parody of the childhood scenes from the Godfather and it also makes me think of Johnny Dangerously, another fantastic gangster comedy flick. This section has one of my favorite, small, visual jokes. When Vincenzo tries to make it to the boat that will take him to America, and he eventually jumps in to swim after it, you'll see that the boat is named Il Pacino. Love it. This beginning portion does have it's hits and misses and I don't feel is as strong as the rest of the movie's jokes, but there still are some here that I adore and it does make for at least a good beginning. Abrahams even had a joke as a throwback to Airplane! at the immigration office, "The white zone is for white people only."
And that's what I love about these types of movies. The level of wackiness. They have a great combination of wacky humor but telling it with a straight face. Rarely in this do I feel someone is "trying" to be funny. And that's not just something that's strong with just these types of comedies but comedy in general. Think about some of the straight jokes told in this lesser spoof comedy and how much funnier they are than a supposedly wonderful Adam Sandler movie where he is making goofy noises and faces left and right. Not to mention that this movie also uses their making fun of as a jumping off point. Then they make a lot of their own jokes with certain references mixed in. Unlike stuff like Date Movie which is essentially 90 minutes of references and surprisingly next to no jokes. Take the scene when we're first introduced to the casino inside and out. We're given the usual games like blackjack, etc, but we're also given the joke ones. They had craps where the dice literally turned to crap when the player rolled craps. And then there's the Guess the Number game. "Sorry, I was thinking of 3." Groans all around.
I don't want to just make this a listing of the jokes I thought were funny. But outside of that I'm trying to think what all to talk about. Since this is a comedy (and a niche comedy at that) it's all so subjective. Normally these movies don't have the highest production quality, but that's easily forgiven if the filmmakers make you laugh. Then the performances tend to not be award worthy, passable at best, but that's again not a big deal as long as it makes you laugh. However I will say that I greatly enjoyed Lloyd Bridges performance. In a way during this era of comedies he could be seen in a similar manner as Leslie Neilson. After years of serious work they both decide in old age to get into comedies. What they then do is bring their dramatic experience to their performance and let the dialogue/story do the work. Lloyd Bridges was just as funny as he was in Hot Shots! and Airplane!. He brings that educated performance to something that is downright silly. It enhances the experience as a whole. Also as a side note, this was his final film and it was dedicated to him. Some may consider that a bummer that this was the last thing he did, I like to look at it as he went out laughing.

Now onto the bad. Like I said earlier this was when this type of comedy was on a downfall. This just didn't have what some of the earlier titles of the same nature had. Even the National Lampoon's attempt at spoofing Lethal Weapon was a stronger candidate as a whole and that was a weaker title in the midst of some of the classics from the 80s. The signs that this type of comedy was on it's way out is seen in bits and pieces here and there. In the past when next to all the comedy was done in a very "matter of fact" type way. Meaning it didn't feel the need to present it in a way that will stop the movie to focus on the joke (i.e. The red and white zone bit at the beginning of Airplane! Nobody is reacting to it and there's music in the background. It's all done very straight.) Sadly Mafia had a few instances of really "trying" to be funny and makes groaner references to other movies. Most obvious example is a Forrest Gump reference that is so forced it almost hurts. A similar feeling came from a Scarface joke where a man says the famous line, "Say hello to my little friend." and a midget comes out with a gun and starts firing. The forced jokes are more than just references but there were enough to make the audience cringe with how forced the jokes feel.
My next complaint is something I don't feel I should have an issue with but I do is the overall plot. Since The Godfather films were long and complicated and this one is making a parody of that plot there are elements of it here. However it tells a story in 80+ minutes instead of three, 3 hour movies. Since it jumps back and forth in time things can get surprisingly confusing. But it's not because the story is actually complicated, it just isn't presented very well. It winds up feeling more like a sketch movie with all the same characters and themes. I'm not looking for something artsy, just a bit more coherent. Other comedies like this had more straight forward plots than this one. Just one of those things I noticed more than ever on this most recent viewing.

Despite the bad I still recommend you check this one out. I can guarantee it's better than the more recent comedies of this style, like A Haunted House or Scary Movie 5. Not as strong of a spoof comedy as the Naked Gun movies or Airplane! But it's certainly a hell of a lot better a Godfather parody than The Godson was. What a joke of a comedy was that (pun slightly intended). Besides, with Mafia! you get to see a horse projectile vomit.

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