Imagine a nightclub that’s a mad melange of old school burlesque, classic balladeers and jumped-up Portuguese Latin rock, of strippers and stand-up comedy with an occasional dominatrix.
It’s old fashioned showbiz set in a mobbed-up milieu with “Goodfellas” decor, way too many “Sopranos” alumni and an actual daughter of Bobby Freakin’ DeNiro.
Can’t exist anywhere except for “Sin City,” right? A neon netherworld version of New York where all these dese-dem-dose actors have to be imported to Lisbon, where there’s no hint of “fado” but the street signs and police sirens are strictly European Union Portugal.
That’s “Cabaret Maxime,” a lurid lounge where Bennie Gazza (Michael Imperioli) presides, putting on a show like nobody ever put on a show. You’d pay to see a night of strippers with tigers, a hot band, bustiers and the last comic and MC to still tell comic stories (John Ventigmilia).
Three things about this cabaret, invented by Portuguese New Yorker writer-director Bruno de Almeida (“On the Run,” Operation Autumn”) , are worth noting.
One, I’d pay good money for an evening in a joint like that. So might you. The cover charge would have to be in the multiple C-note range for them to break even, though.
Two, the movie’s an odd catalog of cliches, over-familiar “running a night club with mob influence” riffs and dialogue that sounds improvised, often feebly.
And three, go back to point one. This setting, this set-up and this cast would make a pretty cool cable series, a “Sopranos” with a house band, a few tenors, coloraturas and altos to go with the strippers and wise guys.
As Bennie says at one point during the movie, “Not sure I get it, but I’ll drink to it.”
Bennie’s running this place at the pleasure of his made-man landlord and watered-down liquor supplier, Mr. Gus (David Proval). He’s married to his star attraction, emotionally troubled dancer/stripper Stella (Ana Padrão).
“Remember, Stella means STAR!”
He books acts through the ever-enthusiastic goof, Ripa (Mike Starr).
The house band is Ena Pá 2000, with guest guitarist Phil Mendrix, but the songs cover decades of American (and European) pop, with balladeer Sandro Core taking a bow.
Then, these goombahs (Nick Sandow, Anthony Siciliano and John Frey) set up a tacky “high end” strip joint across the street, and the trouble starts.
Virtually everybody in this with extra vowels in his name was on “The Sopranos,” so you kind of know every place “Cabaret Maxime” is going to take you long before it gets there.
It’s a somewhat flippant spin around the mob-backed-nightclub block, with violence that seems preordained without the care of “consequences” that might come later.
But like Mr. Gus says, “You get old, you make’a coupla bucks, then you die.” Why sweat logic or extravagantly pricey overhead or dialogue that struggles with “When’s the last time you had a good tomato?”
The cast is game, with Imperioli and Ventimiglia, Sandow and the Portuguese Padrão standing out.
The players, the colorful milieu and the parade of nightclub acts make this a fun if somewhat undigested night out, chased with a hangover.
To Bennie, to me, and maybe to you — Who knows? — all that matters is this.
“I’m not a pimp. I’m in SHOW business.”
Sometimes — badda-bing, badda-boom — that’s enough.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, nudity, sexual situations, alcohol abuse
Cast: Michael Imperioli, Ana Padrão , John Ventimiglia, Drena De Niro, Nick Sandow, Arthur J. Nascarella, David Proval, Mike Starr
Credits: Directed by Bruno de Almeida , script by Bruno de Almeida and John Frey. A Giant Pictures release.
Running time: 1:35