Movie Review: Mobsters

Posted: May 14, 2012 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

Mobsters (1991/ Universal Pictures/ Dir. Michael Karbelnikoff)

We’ve probably talked about this before, but movies that took place before the fifties and featured guys in hats doing guys in hats things were very cool for about twelve minutes when I was a kid. For reasons I’ve never been quite clear on, I was very VERY into the time era that went from the 20s to the 40s when I was between the ages of 11 and 16. Maybe it was an obsession with old Warner Brothers Cartoons, maybe I got a taste of some really good Film Noir, maybe I just liked fedoras. Who can say? No, it’s probably not just the hats, I think it has to be the time period. You can’t just say “This has guys in hats” and get me interested, but you can say “It takes place in 1935” and I am THERE! Case in point, this movie. I pretty much have to put this thing into context, because without context it almost doesn’t/shouldn’t exist and in many ways it fails to make sense on its own. It’s not a good movie, but it’s too well made to be on any “So bad they’re good” lists, mostly it’s forgotten. Again, without context, you fail to understand why such talent would go to such wretched waste.

Now, we just keep this weekend between us.

Do you remember sometime ago, when I did a really short and sort of lazy review of Young Guns? What heady days those were. That’s not really important though, what is important was that Young Guns was a big hit and many people wanted to try and see if they couldn’t get lightening to strike a second time. There was a spate of Young Gun style movies that came out for a couple of years and this is one of them. You almost need to understand that idea for anything in this movie to make much sense. Without knowing that this is supposed to be Young Guns with Gangsters, the movie will simply confound you. That’s because the movie is so slipshod that it leaves you wondering why anyone would make and then release a movie so full of holes. The simple answer is, they were hoping the Young Gun crowd would take to this, without understanding what made that movie enjoyable despite its flaws. This is just lazy and cynical.

Note: Weirdo, don’t put a fart joke here. Love, Fancy.

The thing is that I keep thinking as I watch this again, this should have been better. The cast was full of big names like Anthony Quinn and Michael Gambon, as well as up and comers like Christian Slater, Costas Mandylor and Patrick Dempsey. This is back when Slater was going to be huge, before he crashed, burned and vanished. There must have once been talent behind this, but either they went unpaid, or the studio rushed production, or young talent got to be a pain in the ass, or some people had some serious drug/gambling debts to pay off. For the young stars, you can excuse them. Most of them hadn’t done very much up to this point, apart from Slater, and none of them had been allowed to play a real live adult before*. So I can’t really fault any of the kids for getting into this production, but what happened to the rest of this movie?
*No, I don’t count “Arkansas” Dave as a real adult, or my theory falls to the ground.

Just booze

Slater does most the heavy lifting as the star of the movie, but he had the most experience. Dempsey is no slouch either, but he also had experience and had a fistful of talent going for him and an understated role that he allows to be understated. That was Slater’s problem and it’s only gotten worse over the years. Not that he wasn’t talented, because he was. Slater’s shtick that he was the young, brash, know it all punk kid who turns out okay in the end. That’s great when you’re a teenager, playing a teenager, making movies for teenagers. He had a very hard time trying to transition to adult roles, and some would say he never really made it. He’s done some good work since those days, but I think Will Scarlett was probably his high point and Kuffs was the beginning of the end for him… but I digress.

Hot babe! Don’t get excited, only her body double gets naked.

The movie looks okay, but in some places it looks like it was shot on The Universal back lot and in some places it looks like they were desperate to find any sort of room they could redress to make it look like the 1920s, and none of it comes off as a real. Even rooms that haven’t been touched or changed since they were last used in ’27 looks a little fake. Not for any particular reason, because there aren’t any obvious modern touches or other flaws jumping out, but it feels like it lacks verisimilitude. No one looks comfortable in the clothes, no one appears to recognize any of the things in the background, no one feels like they really live in this world. It’s one of the main problems with this whole movie, no one belongs here.

Bullet holes.

Okay, so I’ve talked about the movie for five paragraphs, what the hell is it actually about? Well, ostensibly, this is supposed to be the story of the four guys who more or less formulated the idea of The Commission. The friendship between Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky is supposed to be the central pillar, but that’s not a very strong pillar because they wanted Bugsy Siegel and Frank Costello to have rolls in the movie and nothing really holds together very well. There’s too much going on, Luciano’s love story falls completely flat, Lara Flynn Boyle is given exactly nothing to do, despite having an almost interesting idea behind her character. The problem isn’t that this movie has no ideas, it’s that the movie has too many ideas and doesn’t know what to do with all of them. Costello and Siegel are barely in the movie and could be removed with hardly any real change to the movie.

About the only face he makes through the whole thing.

This is a movie lousy with pointless montages, as a sad stand in for storytelling. You’re just supposed to understand that they’re rising to power, even though we’re not really told in any specific way. The storytelling isn’t even as compelling as Dick Tracy from a year before, and the sets don’t feel as realistic. It’s a jumbled telling of the history, portraying the story in weak terms and without much heart. Missing the heart would be okay if we felt like we were getting the real story, the bad history can be forgiven if the story is otherwise compelling. The chief problem here is that we never get past the surface, and while it’s a shiny surface, a well shot and well designed surface, the fact that it’s all surface doesn’t help.

So what are you wearing?

There could have been a good movie in this thing, it is possible. I can almost see the good movie hiding behind the problems I’m having. Very likely, a budget got deeply slashed somewhere along the line after a bunch of people were already signed on and contractually obligated. It’s even possible that there is a three hour version of this movie that doesn’t suck, which would make a lot of the other problems minor by comparison. This feels like one of those productions that got cut to the bone in editing, at the cost of all coherence. In fact, if this movie were twice as long, it would either be enough room to tell all the little stories they’re trying to tell… or it would be an interminable hell to sit through. I honestly can’t say without being shown the director’s cut. And as this movie is about twenty years old and no one cared when it was new, I’ll probably never see it. Of course, one of the problems there is that it shouldn’t need a three hour version.


This isn’t the worst movie you’re ever going to see. It’s made pretty competently. Or at least the technical aspects are good. The camerawork is nice, the makeup and costumes are good, even the set design is well done even if it doesn’t feel like a real world. Even the acting is pretty good, if not perfect. There are good performances, and bad performances. It’s just when you put it all together, it’s not a very good movie and it comes to a big “So what?” in the end. If you’re curious, watch it on Netflix or rent it on Amazon or something like that with a lot of friends and make a night out of it. Just don’t spend your hard earned money on it. Spend some easy money, if you must.

Official Score:
5 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

Here, have some Camo Ninja to cheer yourself up.

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