“Mafia Mama,” long review short?
“Vino, Vespas, violence and vulgarisms.”
Sadly, if we’re staying alliterative and offering value judgements on this Toni Collette “validation” star vehicle, we can’t leave out “vapid.”
But who doesn’t adore Toni C? Even if the film is a throwback to her mousy “Muriel’s Wedding” persona, she’s sure to give us something to chew on.
She plays a pushover marketing exec, always getting bowled-over by her boss and male co-workers, cheated-on by her “grown ass man working in a Starbucks” husband (Tim Daish).
But Kristin’s long-abandoned maiden name was “Balbano,” and her maternal grandfather back in the Olde Country has passed. She must return to “settle his affairs,” as she’s his last direct heir.
With her job a misery and a husband a soon-to-be-ex and their kid in college, why not? A quick funeral, a little sight-seeing, maybe a little “‘Under the Tuscan Sun,’ ‘Eat, Pray Love'” vacation tacked-on.
“Eat, Pray F—,'” her bestie and Krav Maga class pal Jenny (Sophia Nomvete) corrects. Kristin is thirsty and everybody knows it.
That’s often a sign of a strained comedy — by the way — putting too much effort on making a sea of F-bombs funny, each and every one of them.
In Italy, Kristin bumps into one smoldering Italian stranger (Giulio Corso) fresh off the plane, but finds herself in the care of a couple of others. “Soldatos,” it turns out. Nope, she doesn’t speak the lingo.
Her long-estranged grandpa? He wasn’t “a vintner,” as she was told. Don Guissepe didn’t die of natural causes, either. For that matter, her dad didn’t die “in a construction accident.” And this “secretary” who summoned her isn’t just a secretary. Bianca, played by the great Monica Bellucci, is a consigliere, a trusted advisor. Don Guissepe was a mafia kingpin.
“He preferred to call it ‘The Invisible Family.'”
So what we’ve got here is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a milquetoast Americana caught in the middle of a mob war in a country where she doesn’t speak the language, an affection-and-finer-things-starved sensualist who only wants la dolce vita when the locals only want to kill her.
“Mafia Mamma” was directed by Ms. “Twilight,” Catherine Hardwicke, who has no flair for comedy. Collette’s years removed from her bubbly “naive” comedy phase, with her many serious roles having “Oscar or Emmy contender” attached to them as she reaches her 50s.
What they cook up up here is a limp noodle of a farce with a string of tepid running gags — comical killings and attempted assassinations and amusing body dismemberments to “clean up” the crimes, mobsters spitting every time the rival famiglia’s name is uttered and Kristin swooning over dreamy men, yummy wines and “Gnocchi,” most of which remain just out of reach as the business of Famiglia Balbano keeps getting in the way.
The one-liners are of the “Just because you are a mafia boss doesn’t mean you have to be a bad person” quality.
The “solution” to the mob war “business” is obvious, the “heroine’s journey” from pushover to assertiveness just as predictable. A few flashes of humor — in court (Jenny is a lawyer), in the romantic clutches and in (violent) action — and Collette’s career-long likability are all “Mafia Mamma” has going for it. It’s not enough.
Rating: R for bloody violence, sexual content and language
Cast: Toni Collette, Monica Bellucci, Sophia Nomvete, Tim Daish, Eduardo Scarpetta, Giulio Corso, Alfonso Perugini and Francesco Mastroianni
Credits: Scripted and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, scripted by Michael J. Feldman and Debby Jhoon. A Bleecker Street release.
Running time: 1:41