Mafia Mamma (U.K./Italy/U.S.A., 2023)

April 13, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Mafia Mamma Poster

Maybe at some point, the idea sounded good. Funny, perhaps. Clever even. A fish-out-of-water comedy drenched in enough blood to earn it a solid R-rating. But if there was any potential in the initial inspiration, it was frittered away. J. Michael Feldman & Debbie Jhoon weren’t the screenwriters for such a project and Catherine Hardwicke (who started her career with Thirteen then somehow ended up behind the wheel for Twilight) wasn’t the right director. The result is a sloppy, unappealing mess that consistently misfires. A comedy without a single funny joke, Mafia Mamma will likely go down as one of the year’s worst theatrical releases.

Take away all the uninspired sit-com level “humor” and the juvenile acting (by anyone not named Toni Collette or Monica Bellucci) and one can almost see a path to respectability for Mafia Mamma. But Hardwicke fails to blend the violence and comedy in a way that provokes laughter rather than cringing. (It’s probably not fair to mention Pulp Fiction as an example of how to do this right, but there you have it…) The inelegant editing seemingly leaves whole scenes on the cutting room floor, resulting in a storyline that lurches ahead at the oddest of times. Also buried in this mess are themes of female empowerment and castrated machismo, both of which are handled clumsily, lacking the deftness of touch that would have imparted meaning to their satirical underpinnings.

The film opens with the assassination of Don Guiseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), the head of a powerful mafia family in Calabria. In a surprise move, Don Balbano has left his empire to his granddaughter Kristin (Toni Collette), an unremarkable American woman who is dealing with problems like an unfaithful husband (Tim Daish); the empty nest syndrome created by the departure of her son, Domenick (Tommy Rodger), for college; and a sexist boss at the advertising agency where she works. Don Balbano’s consigliere, Bianca (Monica Bellucci), pulls strings to bring Kristin to Italy, where she is introduced to the family. While many are skeptical, her cousin, Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta), is openly hostile – offended as much by her gender as by her status as an outsider. But there’s no time for cookie-baking and seeing the sights; Kristin finds herself in the midst of an all-out war with a rival family. She lucks her way into gaining a modicum of respect from other mafia figures even when her most sincere desire is to be romanced by the handsome Lorenzo (Giulio Corso), who makes his own pasta and speaks of running away together.

On the romantic side, some of the choices made by Mafia Mamma are inexplicable. Kristin is supposedly whisked off her feet by the debonaire Lorenzo but actor Guilio Corso’s amateurish performance is superseded only by a complete lack of chemistry. On the other hand, there is no payoff to the teasing interaction between Kristin and Bianca. In one playful scene, Bellucci straddles Collette in a move that couldn’t be mistaken as anything other than sexual but the film does nothing with the smoldering embers, instead allowing them to go cold instead of fanning them. This is frustrating not only because it creates a dead-end out of what could have been a redeeming element but it limits the interaction between the only legitimately talented actors in the production. (During the film’s final third, Bellucci is largely M.I.A., as if she had finished her quota of scenes and was only required to show up for the big finale.)

Watching Mafia Mamma, I wondered whether the filmmakers were intentionally trying to capture something of the fish-out-of-water flavor of Chauncey from Being There or whether this was just a coincidence. The problem isn’t the idea; it’s the execution. The gags are puerile, the dialogue is idiotic, and the acting is either wooden or overwrought. After a while, I started to feel embarrassed for Collette and Bellucci. Both deserve a lot better than what this material gives them and viewers are forgiven for expecting more than a couple of professional performances in a sea of unfunny, maladroitly crafted refuse.

Mafia Mamma (U.K./Italy/U.S.A., 2023)

Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 2023-04-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Subtitles: In English and Italian with subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1