The incomparable Toni Collette saves this otherwise generic comedy from director Catherine Hardwicke.
Plot: Follows an insecure American woman who unexpectedly inherits her grandfather’s mafia empire in Italy. Guided by the firm’s trusted consigliere, she hilariously defies everyone’s expectations, including her own, as the new head of the family business.
Review: The glut of movies out there means that viewers must be selective with what they watch, often relying on star power to draw them into a project. On the heels of her lead role in the Prime Video series The Power, Toni Collette lets loose and has some fun in Mafia Mamma. From director Catherine Hardwicke, Mafia Mamma is a comedy that would have been an abysmal failure with a weaker lead actress. Despite the copious references to The Godfather and surprising bloodshed, Mafia Mamma never rises above the cliche screenplay. The only saving grace is Collette, who has great comedic timing and dives into this film with energy that is its sole saving grace.
Collette plays Kristin Balbano, an American marketing executive who is about to become an empty nester as her son Domenick (Tommy Rodger) heads off to college. Hating her job and her chauvinistic boss, Kristin discovers her musician husband Paul (Tim Daish) is having an affair. When Bianca (Monica Bellucci) calls to inform her that her grandfather has died, Kristin heads to Italy for the funeral. There, amidst a hail of gunfire and a video message from Don Giuseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), Kristin learns she is the new head of her family’s mafia clan. With Bianca as her capo, Kristin must immediately meet with the rival Romanos to settle the ongoing war between their families when she only wants to tour Rome and get laid. With her cousin Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta) reluctant to see this foreigner take over the family, Kristin must quickly learn how to lead with Bianca’s support.
There is very little seriousness in Mafia Mamma. From the outset, Toni Collette plays Kristin as a comedic character. As the movie starts, she is meek and naive and plays the shock of being in a crime syndicate for laughs. Her henchmen, Aldo (Francesco Mastroianni) and Dante (Alfonso Perugini) are funny supporting characters who ingratiate themselves with jokes about Italians and references to Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic trilogy. Kristin even meets a dreamy local pasta maker, Lorenzo (Guilio Corso), who helps her live her dream of Eat Pray Love crossed with Under The Tuscan Sun. Mafia Mamma makes excellent use of the Italian scenery as the rom-com elements hit all the formula requirements. Where the film distinguishes itself a bit is with the gore. The incapable Kristin quickly finds herself in various situations where violence is the only solution. I did not expect to see so many body parts, pools of blood, and discarded appendages.
Throughout the film, there are a few scenes that I actually found funny, mostly those that are more action-oriented. The scenes featuring characters delivering exposition often feel heavy-handed. Most of the supporting cast is decent, but some characters are downright awful. While Kristin’s attorney friend Jenny (Sophia Nomvete) starts as a way to propel the plot, by the end, she is the worst kind of cliche. There is also Tim Daish as Kristin’s husband, a character who clearly looks like a scumbag the moment he comes on screen. So many of these characters are thin that the two lead actors save the day. Toni Collette has been in so many fantastic dramatic roles and is very funny here. Collette allows Kristin’s transformation from meek to mafia donna to never shy away from humor, and she never loses the core personality she starts with. Equally, Monica Bellucci does more than pout and play pretty, making Bianca a formidable character. There is an odd sense of sexual tension between the two that makes me wonder if this script underwent some changes.
From a script by J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon, Mafia Mamma is the latest project from Catherine Hardwicke. After starting strong with Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, Hardwicke’s resume has been peppered with mediocre projects like Twilight and Red Riding Hood. Her last major film, Miss Bala, showed an aptitude for action, but Hardwicke struggles to make Mafia Mamma feel as cinematic as it should. The comedy often falls flat here, and there are confusing editing choices, including a blatant stand-in during a major climactic moment. Hardwicke is a talented filmmaker who often gets saddled with weak scripts, and Mafia Mamma is no exception. Had this movie taken itself even more seriously or cast stronger actors in the supporting roles, it could have worked better. As it stands, Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci have to do a lot of heavy lifting to save their roles, but even that is not enough to keep this movie from falling apart.
Mafia Mamma is a movie that I was surprised to see get a theatrical run. As an option on a streaming platform, you could justify spending a couple of hours enjoying Toni Collette in the beautiful scenery of Italy. Still, on the big screen, this is an underwhelming exercise in humor that we have seen done far better. Nothing new is offered in either the mob story or the romantic comedy elements, but there is a target audience who will appreciate the empowerment this movie has in store. Most male characters are played as fools and idiots, and the women are all strong and capable, and there is nothing wrong with that. Still, when the female characters are often played as idiots, I wonder who this movie is for. If you check out Mafia Mamma, you will like Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci but not much else.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/mafia-mamma-review/