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Bullets, broads, guyliner, and hair gel: “Mobsters”

January 13, 2013

movie_7206As I mentioned in my review of Gangster Squad, that movie put me in mind of Mobsters—a movie that I saw upon its release in 1991 (my girlfriend was a big Christian Slater fan) and haven’t thought about since…a couple days later in 1991. Now, as with Gangster Squad, this is not a “good” movie per se. It’s not really even an adequate one. It’s, well, it’s a pretty bad one. What surprised me upon revisiting this film 20 years later is that it’s actually not that much worse than Gangster Squad. As a matter of fact, it’s probably better plotted than Gangster Squad and any number of other mid-range movies released this year. And that’s pretty depressing, because Mobsters is not a film that should be almost better than anything.

Okay, so to understand Mobsters, you have to understand two things: 1) there was a really popular Western movie called Young Guns which came out in 1988 and starred the hot young properties of Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Emilio Estevez (some of those would have more career longevity than others) and 2) in 1991 Christian Slater, Patrick Dempsey, Costas Mandylor, and Richard Grieco were hot young properties. Oh, and also 3) there once was a thing called Richard Grieco, and he was sort like a…um…like an early version of…ah…crap, how do you explain Richard Grieco?

Goddamn, the '90s sucked.

Goddamn, the ’90s sucked.

Anyway, some brainiac in Hollywood decided that a good vehicle for these up-and-comers would be to cast them as gangsters and retell the story of how Lucky Luciano created the American Crime Syndicate.  It’s actually not a terrible idea for a movie, you know, except for the casting part.

Mobsters stuffs a lot of story into its run time. We see the group as kids, then as a quartet running small-time rackets, and then weaving between two warring mob bosses who run New York City. Eventually, they decide to knock over both bosses and establish themselves as the bosses.

“I so deserve this. I’m Richard Grieco.”

In the meantime, one of their mentors (F. Murray Abraham) gets whacked. Lucky is tortured and gets his trademark scar (and nickname). Lucky falls in love with a chorus girl (Lara Flynn Boyle, coasting on her intra-Twin Peaks/pre-The Practice fame) who gets killed in an attempted hit on him (I can see where you could get them confused). Meyer and Lucky have a falling out (but make up quickly thereafter). And eventually knock off the two bosses. Oh, and contend with a renegade psychopathic hitman.

That’s a lot of plot, and most of it doesn’t really mesh in any organic or, well, coherent way. Likewise, a lot of time is spent with these hoods discussing the intricacies of pitting the two bosses against one another, but make no mistake—we’re not in Red Harvest/Miller’s Crossing territory here. Ultimately, the big plan comes down to “Let’s kill these guys at the end of the movie, so we have a decent climax. Cool?”

The world of these gangsters in pre-War New York is never really shown in any detail. Probably because that would mean time when these four guys aren’t onscreen together, and director Michael Karbelnikoff—who would later go on to make…a couple of Red Shoe Diaries episodes—seems like he would rather eat three-day old sushi than do that. So, yeah, this was pretty much just an excuse to get these actors in natty suits and fedoras and, hey, maybe start a new fashion trend or something (spoiler: it didn’t).

Well, for most people it didn't.

Well, for most people it didn’t.

So, yeah, now we have to talk about the front men of this enterprise. Well, Patrick Dempsey does okay, bringing every watt of his Sunday-night-TV-show star power. But everyone else…Agh! There’s a reason Generation X never quite managed to create a big movie star (did we? I can’t think of any…does Julia Roberts count?). Christian Slater basically does his thing—his only thing—which is to imitate Jack Nicholson to various amplitudes. It was still fresh in 1991, but would be played out by, well, late 1991. He attempts a New York accent early in the movie, but abandons it right quick. Instead, he just sort of decides to pretend that the guy from Heathers is a gangster now.

And Richard Greico…jeez, how do you explain Richard Grieco to those too young and innocent to know such a thing? He’s like…if someone mixed the DNA of Mickey Rourke and Joan Jett and added a lot of guyliner fifteen years before guyliner was a thing. He replaced Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street and thought that gave him swagger rights. So, while Depp is off making Edward Scissorhands and dating Winona Ryder, Grieco is strutting around telling the world to go eat a dick, because he’s the new freakin’ face of 21 Jump Street yo! No, it doesn’t make any sense. It was a very confused time. The Cold War had ended, and there was AIDS and stuff, and no one had invented the internet yet, and…damn it, who are you to judge us?

Sorry, sorry, sorry…back to matters at hand. We also get Michael Gambone and Anthony Quinn chomping their way through the scenery like Pac-Man after about smoking a pound of weed. I guess they just figured, “Well, no one seeing movies today remembers us anyway, so what the hell…”

Mobsters. Why did I review this again? Eh, screw it. Too late now.

Richard Grieco. Seriously. Richard Freaking Grieco. What…how does that even happen?

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