Mafia Mamma Review | Makes an Offer You Can Either Take or Leave

by Andrew Parker

Both better than expected and not as clever as it ought to be, the sitcom level comedy Mafia Mamma is a throwback to a bygone era. It’s the sort of fish-out-of-water-and-in-over-their-heads fantasy that cluttered up theatres and megaplexes back in the 80s and 90s, but somehow went the way of the dodo shortly thereafter. Not many of those movies were great cinema either, but there was a certain charm in watching someone from a lower class inherit or earn something grand and then proceeding to do something outlandish with their newfound wealth and power. King Ralph, Pretty Woman, Corky Romano, Brewster’s Millions, Little Big League, Blank Check; I could be here awhile longer listing off similar titles, but we’re here now to talk about Mafia Mamma.

Kristin Dorner (Toni Collette) has reached a low point in her life. Her teenage son (Tommy Rodger) is off to college. Her self-obsessed, lowlife husband (Tim Daish) has been cheating on her. She works a thankless, soul crushing, sexist job in the marketing department of a pharmaceutical company that doesn’t value or appreciate her input. But when things seem like they can’t be getting any worse, Kristin gets an unexpected, albeit somewhat morose lifeline. Her distant Italian grandfather has died, and his “secretary” (Monica Bellucci) phones to say that Kristin needs to come right away to settle the old man’s affairs as the primary beneficiary to his estate. Wouldn’t you know it? Turns out gramps was the head of a powerful crime family, and he was gunned down in the middle of a gang war. And he wanted mild mannered Kristin to take up the old family name and run the whole show!

Hilarity ensues. Well, kind of, but not really. While there are admittedly some chuckle worthy scenes peppered throughout Mafia Mamma, the writing from television veterans Michael J. Feldman and Debbie Jhoon is hit or miss. Most of Mafia Mamma feels like a pilot episode of an intended series that never made it to air and got padded out to feature length. It trades heavily in exhausted Italian stereotypes, clunky dialogue that tells more than it shows, and easy punchlines, but it’s also rather gleefully potty mouthed and sometimes shockingly violent. It also has a well put together and cleverly written sequence that starts going in a sickeningly dark direction before flipping the script and turning into something quite hilariously empowering and cathartic. In other films, it might’ve been the most disturbing sequence. Here, it’s the most memorable one.

It’s not that Mafia Mamma is terrible, but rather that it’s low aiming and underwhelming outside of its lead performer. Collette is a perfect choice for this character. She’s a smart enough performer to know that Kristin has to seem naive, but not completely stupid. She’s keenly aware of where that line between oblivious and idiotic lies, and is always careful never to cross it. It’s a skill that the rest of the film – which totally implodes during the inexcusably sloppy final act – doesn’t have.

Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown, Twilight) is a steady enough hand, capable of injecting some visual panache into Mafia Mamma, but this feels mostly like a work for hire gig that anyone could’ve directed. The supporting cast is fine, even though everyone else plays a character that could be summed up in four words or less. And while it’s cool for a movie about a middle aged woman to be super horny for a change, even that doesn’t go anywhere meaningful or funny. For the most part, Mafia Mamma is as passive as comedies tend to get, which only enhances the previously mentioned throwback vibe. 

Mafia Mamma is instantly forgettable, but at least it looks like everyone had a good time making it. And some people might have a good time watching Mafia Mamma before they, too, forget it.

Mafia Mamma opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, April 14, 2023.

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