Friday July 24, 1998
Here's a partial listing of the movies you'll need to be familiar with in order to appreciate the full idiotic flavor of Jim Abrahams' "Mafia!," the latest (but only the first of three this summer) descendant of "Airplane!":
"The Godfather," Parts 1, 2 and 3, "Casino," "Il Postino," "Child's Play," "GoodFellas," "Forrest Gump," "The English Patient," "E.T.," "Saturday Night Fever" and any version of Dickens' "A Christmas Story." And, of course, you also have to have seen all the other "Airplane!," "Hot Shots!" and "Naked Gun" derivatives, and laughed your fool head off.
If you have done all that, and lower your expectations, you may get a few laughs out of this one, too.
"Mafia!" takes its greatest inspiration from the first two "Godfather" movies; the third, after all, was a laugh riot in its own right. The late Lloyd Bridges plays Vincenzo Cortino, a Sicilian who swam from Sicily to America as a small boy to get away from the Mafia don he'd infuriated by splashing him with Miracle Grow.
Young Vincenzo brought with him the right thumb of a man who'd murdered his father, and in the decades since, while he was building an underworld empire with an olive oil front, he's carried the digit around with him, like a rabbit's foot, hoping to find its match.
Cutting back and forth between Vincenzo's youth and modern times (this is actually a parody of the special edition of "The Godfather: 1902-1958, the Complete Epic"), we get to know Vincenzo's sons, the hotheaded Joey (Billy Burke) and the college grad, war hero Anthony (Jay Mohr), Joey's girlfriend Diane (Christina Applegate) and the Cortino consigliare Clamato (Joe Viterelli).
The contemporary section of the story turns on a potential territorial mob war and an assassination attempt on Don Vincenzo. In revenge, young Anthony meets the rival don at a restaurant and shoots him between the eyes ("I hear the ocean," the victim says, before he falls). The new Anthony takes over the family business, treats his girlfriend badly, sends his brother to Las Vegas, and generally stumbles over the plot line of the first "Godfather."
There are amusing moments, but none of them involves Bridges, whose frailty dampers all his scenes. Bridges did some very funny work in Abrahams' earlier movies, but he clearly wasn't up for this assignment.
The funniest thing about "Mafia!" is in the film's press kit, where Abrahams seriously attempts to explain how he got the idea for it. Something about seeing reviews of a TV adaptation of a new gangster movie and having a lightbulb go on. Let's send up the mob! After parodying the combat, cop and disaster movie genres, we might have thought he'd simply got to the Ms.
In that same hilarious section, Abrahams says the key to the success of his movies is the time and effort that goes into the plots. No kidding! Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo knocked themselves out writing their Oscar-winning "Godfather" scripts. In fairness, Abrahams and his "Mafia!" co-writers Michael McManus and Greg Norberg might have insisted on the credit line: Jokes written by. . . .
I don't know about Coppola and Puzo, but the Mafia should sue.
Mafia!, 1998. PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor, language, violence and drug content. Times guideline: pervasive comic drug use. Touchstone Pictures presents a Tapestry Films production. A Jim Abrahams film. Directed by Jim Abrahams. Screenplay by Jim Abrahams, Greg Norberg, Michael McManus. Produced by Bill Badalato. Executive producers Peter Abrams, Robert L. Levy. Co-producers, Greg Norberg, Michael McManus. Director of Photography, Pierre LeTarte. Production designer, William Elliott. Editor, Terry Stokes. Costume designer, Mary Malin. Music by Gianni Frizzelli. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. Christina Applegate as Diane. Lloyd Bridges as Don Vincenzo Cortino. Billy Burke as Joey. Jay Mohr as Anthony. Joe Viterelli as Clamato. Olympia Dukakis as Sophie Cortino.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times