by Eric D. Snider
Released: July 24, 1998
Jim Abrahams, director of "Hot Shots," brings us "Mafia!" (or, as it is properly called, "Jane Austen's Mafia!" which is actually quite a bit funnier). This film, a parody of Mafia movies in general and "The Godfather" and "Casino" specifically, lacks the manic energy of the best entries in the "so-stupid-it's-funny" genre, but still manages to earn quite a few laughs with nearly non-stop sight gags and ridiculous situations.
The plot is negligible, and in fact, I just saw the movie, and I'm not sure I can exactly retell it. There are several long flashbacks, taking us back to various characters' early lives on the streets of Sicily, or of Little Italy in New York, and they add to the muddiness of the plot. So intent is the movie on spoofing everything and being silly, it hardly even bothers to introduce a storyline.
What there is of it has to do with Godfather Don Cortino (Lloyd Bridges, in his final screen role) passing the torch on to his second son (Jay Mohr), which naturally upsets his oldest son (Billy Burke). There's some retribution, and people get killed in various humorous ways, and Mohr has a girlfriend (Christina Applegate) who's afraid she won't fit in to the family (or The Family) because "I'm the Protestant chick who never killed anybody."
The plot, of course is not particularly important. This genre of film, more or less created by Jim Abraham and the Zucker brothers with "Airplane!," exists mainly to parody other films. "Mafia!" has taken some flack for parodying "The Godfather" 25 years too late. But that seems irrelevant. For one thing, it's not like "The Godfather" is so old that people have forgotten about it. For another thing, "Airplane!" -- widely regarded as the godfather of this genre -- parodied disaster movies, but was released in 1981 -- nearly a decade after the big slew of disaster movies struck -- and "Top Secret" (one of the best of the genre, though underrated these days) parodied Elvis Presley movies and World War II movies waaaaay after THEY were popular.
Furthermore, "Mafia!" also takes cracks at "Casino," "Goodfellas," "Forrest Gump," and "A Christmas Carol." All the comedy eggs are not in the "Godfather"-parody basket.
So is the movie funny? Yes, though in a slightly different way from its predecessors. Prior entries in the genre often relied on witty dialogue as much as sight gags (from "Airplane!": "Surely you can fly this plane." "No I can't, and don't call me Shirley"), but "Mafia!" has precious little in the way of memorable, quote-worthy lines. The focus here is visual comedy, and while it excels at that -- you have to read every street sign and look closely at every shot to catch everything -- it's still nice to have something specific to repeat to your friends afterwards.
The movie is chock-full of flatulence, vomiting and murder, though all of it is done in a non-realistic, humorous manner. Still, some bits are not for the faint of heart. There is some sexual innunendo, though no nudity or sex per se. It's basically what a cartoon would be like if it were live-action and rated PG-13: silly and moronic, but a little more graphic than you'd want your kids to see on Saturday morning. Go in a light mood, though, and it'll make you laugh.
Rated PG-13, crude and sex-related humor, language, violence and drug content.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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