REVIEW: “Mafia Mamma” (2023)

(CLICK HERE for my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

The very title “Mafia Mamma” doesn’t exactly encourage optimism. To the film’s credit it does offer up an enticing cast, namely Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci. But even they are eventually brought down by the progressively bad material. Good actors can carry a movie, but even they need a little something to work with. “Mafia Mamma” leaves everyone high and dry. I will say it looks like they had a good time shooting it. I wish I could say the same about watching it.

The film is written for the screen by Michael J. Feldman and Debbie Jhoon who are working from an original story by Amanda Sthers. It’s directed by Catherine Hardwicke who handles things well enough from the technical side of things. But the management of the film’s ever-shifting tone is another thing altogether. It’s all over the map to the point that it has no real identity. One minute it’s a mobster movie; a minute later it’s a raunchy comedy; yet a minute later it hits you with grisly violence. It’s hard to make out what the movie wants to be. I’m guessing it looked better on paper than in how it turned out.

Image Courtesy of Bleecker Street

I really like Toni Collette, but she’s handed an impossible task. The movie attempts to take her character Kristin on a wild and crazy journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Yet they spend the bulk of the film’s 101 minutes making her out to be weak, shallow, and borderline insufferable. And regardless of how good of an actress Collette is, even she can’t take ten minutes at the end of the film and turn her character into a believably strong and self-reliant woman.

We first meet Kristin as a kind-hearted yet slightly naive woman living on the West Coast with her dolt of a husband Paul (Tim Daish) and her college-bound son Domenick (Tommy Rodger). She works an unfulfilling job as a marketing strategist for a pharmaceutical company where she’s constantly overlooked due to the boy’s club mentality of her male counterparts. Meanwhile her brash and outspoken best friend (because it seems we always need a brash and outspoken best friend character) Jenny (Sophia Nomvete) pushes her to get a backbone and start looking out for herself.

Kristin is surprised by a phone call from a woman named Bianca (Bellucci) who tells her the grandfather she doesn’t even know, Giuseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), has died and she’s needed in Italy to help settle his affairs. Obviously it doesn’t make sense considering she hasn’t been to Italy or seen any family there since she was a baby. But with her marriage souring and her work stalling she decides to go. I mean who knows, maybe she can have her own “Under the Tuscan Sun” moment.

Once she arrives in beautiful sun-soaked Italy Kristin discovers the first of several family secrets. She learns that her grandfather wasn’t the winemaker he masqueraded as. He was actually a powerful mafia don who was killed in a gunfight along with the head of the rival Romano gang. With a potential mob war looming, both families scramble for new bosses. Next in line to lead the Romanos is Carlo Romano (Giuseppe Zeno). It’s a little more complicated for the Balbanos.

Image Courtesy of Bleecker Street

Hungry to lead the Balbanos is the late Don’s hot-headed and ambitious nephew, Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta). But in a video recording left behind by the late Don Giuseppe, he shares his last wishes – he inexplicably wants Kristin, his only grandchild, to take his place as head of the family and entrusts his loyal general Bianca to ensure it happens. Obviously, nothing about his decision makes sense. Why would any mafia don hand over his entire operation to someone he hasn’t laid eyes on in decades? It’s so ridiculous that you keep waiting for what feels like a pretty obvious twist that never comes.

For the rest of the way the mostly suspense-free story haplessly bops along, tossing in some mostly thrill-free action and taking some mostly laugh-free swings at humor. Sadly nothing it throws at the screen really sticks. The ‘fish out of water’ stuff gets old pretty quick. The sudden jolts of gore feel more haphazard than thought out. And so many of the characters are stuck as lame caricatures with no relatable qualities whatsoever. Those things might be easier to overlook if the movie was half as funny as it tries to be. Sadly, it’s not. “Mafia Mamma” is out now in theaters.


6 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Mafia Mamma” (2023)

  1. Well that’s a shame. The idea of Toni Collette as a Dona would be fun. She deserves better and having finally saw Hereditary last year. I’m now pissed off that she wasn’t considered for an Oscar nod let alone a win.

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