Film and TV

The Mob's Rubbed Out

It has taken twenty-six years for some smart aleck to come up with a fullscale parody of The Godfather, so the question now is: Who wants to see it? Many of the 16- to 24-year-olds who flock to movie theaters in the summertime may not know Michael Corleone from Michael Jordan, and older moviegoers are unlikely to be edified by the picture's surfeit of fart jokes or the spectacle of the late, lamented Lloyd Bridges induced to do last year's fad, the macarena, by a hail of machine-gun bullets.

Still, Mafia! has its comic moments--high and low. Writer/director Jim Abrahams, one of the gag men behind Airplane!, Hot Shots and the three Naked Gun parodies, is a humorist who believes in carpet-bombing his audience with jokes--a pratfall in one corner of the frame, a funny advertising sign ("Taco Bella") in another and a vaguely naughty one-liner on the soundtrack--in the hope that something will hit even if everything else misses. Abrahams keeps the mayhem so frantic before inevitably running out of gas that it's hard to process it all.

Actually, Mafia! (aka Jane Austen's Mafia!) is a satirical mishmash of Godfathers I and II, the recent works of Martin Scorsese and whatever other pop cultural spices Abrahams could find for the pot. His verbal and visual jokes borrow from Jurassic Park, Bill Clinton's alleged indiscretions (sexual and fiscal), The English Patient, Forrest Gump, the O.J. Simpson case, even the Irish step-dancing craze, which serves as a prop for a mob hit. He's got a sullen blonde vixen named Pepper Gianini (Pamela Gidley), inspired by Sharon Stone in Casino, and a white-bread do-gooder called Diane (Christina Applegate), who's part dazed Diane Keaton, part ambitious Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Along with Don Cortino (Bridges), we glimpse Don Quixote (in full body armor) and Don Cornelius (in a full set of gold chains). We get a mock-rustic version of sunny Sicily conjured up in Palos Verdes, old New York reinvented on a soundstage and an intermittently funny look at Las Vegas (shot in Reno), where the marks go broke playing Chutes and Ladders and the objects thrown in craps are two lumps of brown plastic dung.

The Cortino family--klutzy padrone, two dysfunctional sons and assorted bumbling torpedoes--is not an outfit you'd trust to sprinkle cheese on a pizza, much less extort millions. Old Don Vincenzo mistakes a kilo of coke for non-dairy creamer, and when the ex-war hero son, Anthony (Jay Mohr), stumbles into the restaurant bathroom to get the hidden gun, like Al Pacino did a generation ago, the plumbing breaks and drenches him.

"Any Sicilian in you?" one goofball asks the simmering Pepper.
"Not since last night," she answers.
Among the hits and misses, Abrahams bangs away at a movie genre, and a formerly romanticized segment of the population, that may already be sleeping with the fishes. The minute media-crazed John Gotti got himself shipped off to the slammer, America's odd and misdirected love affair with La Cosa Nostra was probably over for good. It's also all but finito in the entertainment industry: Who needs a parody of The Godfather when network television has already played out the string with The Last Don and The Last Don II, straight-faced mafia epics so unintentionally hilarious that the actors in the cast will hesitate before ever ordering lasagne again.

Individual tastes will vary, of course, but Abrahams's attempts to shred movie mafiosi in the same way he and the Zucker brothers annihilated police heroes in the Naked Gun series and macho military types in Hotshots points up a couple of significant differences. For one thing, the Godfather movies (excepting part three) are such terrific movies, such enduring parts of Hollywood and American culture, that it takes an awfully deft hand to deflate them effectively. Sending up the conventions of everyday cop movies or overwrought disaster flicks like Airport doesn't require much more than tweaking the originals' own silly excesses. Abrahams and the Zuckers did this handily. Knocking down sturdy cinematic monuments is a lot more work, and the slapdash Mafia! is up to the task only in spots.

Here's one: As Anthony walks out of the restaurant where he's just killed two guys, the waiter announces: "Don't forget: Friday is all-you-can-eat cannelloni night."

If only the rest were as sharp and subversive. With all due respect to Bridges, whose Don Vincenzo bungles entertainingly throughout, Mafia! lacks a protagonist with the deadpan appeal of Leslie Nielsen's Lieutenant Frank Drebin. And you'll find less of explosive Sonny Corleone in actor Billy Burke's Joey Cortino than of Billy Burke--whoever he is.

Abrahams also veers away from parodying the mob and into stereotyping Italian-Americans in general. Witness the pint of blood hanging in a hospital room with the word "Dago" emblazoned on the label. Or the Italian girls with mustaches. Or the vision of old Mama Cortino (poor Olympia Dukakis) blowing away some family enemies with her gaseous emanations. You probably don't want to hear about serial vomiting in the mafia funeral scen, or the wedding at Our Lady of Linguini cathedral.

In short, now that Jim Abrahams, for better or worse, has carried out his cinematic hit on mafia movies, we'd all probably do well to unload our guns, send oversized flower sprays to the wake and move on to something else.

Written and directed by Jim Abrahams. With Jay Mohr, Lloyd Bridges, Olympia Dukakis, Christina Applegate and Pamela Gidley.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo