There’s a good gag in Mafia! (Touchstone) that the movie botches so completely it’s a crime. We’re at a fancy Mob wedding where the aging, white-haired patriarch, Don Cortino (Lloyd Bridges), steps onto a backyard dance floor to take a courtly spin with his daughter-in-law. As they dance, a hitman rushes up and fires round after round into the don, whose body, still standing, jerks and twitches so spasmodically that everyone assumes that the old man is simply doing the jitterbug. The musicians grin, stop the slow number they’re playing, and launch into a jubilant rendition of ”In the Mood,” quickly followed by “Macarena.” Hilarious? It might have been—that is, if we could have actually seen Lloyd Bridges (who died shortly after the film was completed) doing his goofy assassination dance. Instead, it’s displayed in choppy bits and pieces that never add up to a slapstick epiphany.
There are a handful of laughs in Mafia!, but most of the movie feels oddly repressed. At this point, who really wants to see a parody of The Godfather anyway? What’s next—Casablanca? The Birth of a Nation? Directed by Jim Abrahams, working without his former partners the Zucker brothers, Mafia! combines a been-there-done-that lampoon of the mythical Corleone cliches with a slightly less moldy satire of Martin Scorsese’s Casino. The underworld gags are limited and repetitive, without the ripely promiscuous media-age lunacy that, in a comedy like The Naked Gun, made you feel as if the film were tickling funny bones you never even knew existed.
Jay Mohr, as the Michael Corleone surrogate, and Billy Burke, as his psycho-hothead brother, don’t even look the part—they’re like preppies clowning in a Harvard spoof—and so the film gets virtually no lift from its performers. Can you imagine, for instance, what that wedding dance of death would have looked like with Leslie Nielsen giving in to his inner anarchist? In the Naked Gun films, the spectacular klutziness of Nielsen’s Lieut. Frank Drebin grows out of his attitude, his oblivious, befuddled soul, but in Mafia!, people smash into walls simply because the filmmakers thought it would be funny to see them smashing into walls. Still, when Mohr’s Anthony Cortino grabs his brother’s head and gives him the kiss of death, leaving a bright red smear of lipstick…well, we may all know this genre’s tricks too well by now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make you smile. C