Mafia Mamma Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Stars: Toni Collette, Monica Bellucci, Giulio Corso, Eduardo Scarpetta, Francesco Mastroianni, Alfonso Perugini, Sophia Nomvete, Tim Daish, Tommy Rodger, Alessandro Bressanello.
There have been a lot of enjoyable comedies set against the backdrop of the underworld and gangsters – Mickey Blue Eyes, Married To The Mob, Analyse This, Corky Romano, Get Shorty, Bullets Over Broadway, etc – but this tonally uneven and misguided effort about a suburban housewife who becomes a Mafia boss makes even the awful Jim Abrahams 1998 comedy Mafia! seem like Oscar worthy material by comparison.
Toni Collette plays Kristin Balbano, an unassuming and frumpy suburban housewife and frazzled marketing executive who feels that her work on an advertising campaign is not appreciated by her misogynistic bosses. Her teenaged son Domenick (Tommy Rodger) is leaving home for college, and she has just discovered that her deadbeat musician husband Paul (Tim Daish) has been having an affair with a fan. Then she receives a phone call from Italy informing her that her grandfather Giuseppe, whom she has not seen since her childhood, has died and she has inherited his vineyard. She needs to go there to help sort out his affairs. She reluctantly heads off to Italy, but the funeral itself is quickly disrupted when gunmen attack the procession. Amidst the chaos and confusion, Kristin escapes and is whisked off to the Balbano compound where she learns that her grandfather was actually the powerful head of a local Mafia family.
Via a prerecorded DVD she learns that, as the only living relative, she is expected to take over the family business. This news doesn’t sit well with Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta), the hot-headed gang capo who had expected to be appointed head of the family, and he is not impressed that an outsider, and an American woman at that, is taking charge. Kristin receives advice from Bianca (Monica Bellucci, from The Matrix Reloaded, etc), her grandfather’s loyal assistant and consigliere and sets about trying to negotiate a peace deal with the rival Romano family who are trying to take over some of their territory.
Kristin however is more interested in pursuing a romance with the hunky pastry chef Lorenzo (Giuliuo Corso) whom she met at the airport. Because of the constant threat of danger from the Romano family, Kristin is accompanied everywhere by two loyal if clueless bodyguards in Aldo (Francesco Mastroianni) and Dante (Alfonso Peugini), which puts something of a dampener on her love life.
Mafia Mamma is the latest film from Catherine Hardwicke whose resume includes films like the popular tween vampire film Twilight and the grittier Lords Of Dogtown, but it seems as though screwball comedy is not exactly one of her strengths and many attempts at humour fall flat.
Mafia Mamma is based on a short story from prolific French author Amanda Sthers and has been adapted to the screen by J Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon, who both collaborated on the tv series A.P.Bio. This generic action comedy is a variation on the fish out of water scenario and incorporates many of the tropes from gangster films and romcoms, but it is something of a mess and doesn’t really work. The lazy script taps into many of the familiar tropes of the mob movie, including several obvious nods to the Oscar winning classic The Godfather, but it is tonally uneven as elements of screwball comedy sit uncomfortably with some jarring moments of Tarantinoesque violence, including a scene where Collette’s Kristin kills a hitman by repeatedly striking him in the face and groin with her stiletto heeled shoe. This scene leaves a sour aftertaste and even prompted a couple of walkouts at the session that I attended. The film even opens with the bloody aftermath of a violent shootout at Giuseppe’s picturesque Italian villa that leaves a lot of casualties and collateral damage which seems to foreshadow much of what follows.
Collette (who also produced the film) is a great dramatic actress but she has never really appeared in screwball comedies – she appeared in the so-so odd couple comedy Connie And Carla in 2004 about two women on the run after witnessing a mob murder – and her performance here is a little odd as she tries to grapple with the demands of her character. While her performance early in the film seems a bit shrill, she does however make the most of her transition from bored, frumpy housewife to beautiful and confident mob boss. Bellucci is largely wasted as Monica, and there are subtle hints of sexual tension between the two. The characters of Aldo and Dante bring nice touches of humour to the material with their performances as Kristin’s bodyguards. Sophia Nomvete (from the tv series Swashbuckle) gets some big laughs with her role as Jenny, Kristin’s sassy lawyer friend who advises her to make the most of her “Eat, Pray and Fuck” trip to Rome. However, some of the peripheral characters come across as little more than caricatures and cliches.
The film looks good though as cinematographer Patrick Marguia (The Frozen Ground, etc) makes the most of the beautiful scenery and picturesque locations in Italy. And there’s also plenty of scenes of delicious food and wine to whet the appetite. Pity about the rest.
But ultimately Mafia Mamma is something of a mess and a disappointment.
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