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So Bad It’s Good #21 : Mobsters (1991)

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Guilty Pleasures that we enjoyed – even though we don’t quite know why.

Movie Title : Mobsters
Released 1991
Starring Christian Slater, Richard Grieco, Costas Mandylor, Patrick Dempsey
Directed By Michael Karbelnikoff

What is it? : A film I’m still unsure I should be including here – if only because it’s probably the poorest of the films we’ve included under the ‘So bad it’s good’ header. But we’ll get to that later – all that matters is that I have decided to include it.
Michael Karbelnikoff directs this MTV-generation take on the younger years of legendary gangsters Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey – then a male thinner, pale version of his “Grey’s Anatomy” self), Lucky Luciano (played by a smug Christian Slater), Bugsy Siegel (the brawny Richard Grieco – then hot off the success of “Booker”) and Frank Costello (hot newcomer Costas Mandylor) as they rise up through the business, seek revenge on the mob bosses who made their families suffer, and flirt with go-go dancers.

What’s wrong with it? : If I say “It makes The Godfather Part III look like The Godfather Part II” does that help paint the picture? Those behind the early 90s effort “Mobsters” weren’t so concern about historical accuracy, casting the right people for the roles, or as they were getting mass coverage in the teenage magazines of the time. Taking a cue from “Young Guns”, where a bunch of Brat Packers stepped in to play legendary outlaw Billy the Kid and his team of rascally rebels, Paramount cast four hot young actors at the time in the roles of real-life gangsters Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel and Frank Costello. At any other time, Patrick Dempsey, Richard Grieco, Christian Slater and Costas Mandylor would not be considered for such a movie – if only because none of them match the nationalities of the characters they’re playing! (Slater’s accent is laughable at times!) and none of them have the fire or skill that say someone like a De Niro or Pacino had in their gangster movies. These guys are there to look pretty, not act – and even if they were, do any of them have anything more in their bag of tricks than the ability to look slightly miffed at each other?
But even then, the casting director could’ve cast appropriate supporting players in the lesser roles of the villains – and didn’t. Instead, he/she (I can’t be fagged looking his/her name up) cast British actor Michael Gambon (‘Dumbledore’ from “Harry Potter”) as a Sicilian gangster! What in sweet Jesus were they thinking?!

As for the film itself, it resembles something you might otherwise see played out as a skit on “Saturday Night Live” or something someone informs you about only to evoke the response “Are you serious? Those four guys as mobsters? Is that a joke?”. It’s a corny gangster movie, probably filmed on the backcloth of Paramount (looked like it anyway), with woeful lines and trashy sub-plots (the whole Slater/Lara Flynn Boyle pool-table diddle shouldn’t be in the movie – but more so, some wacky Zalman King-produced soft porn flick). It doesn’t so much take it’s cue from the old gangster films of the 30s, as it does whatever music clips have featured a gangster theme in the past.

Yep, if wasn’t billed as an action/drama… Blockbuster would’ve definitely put the VHS in the comedy section.

What’s right about it? Its so silly, and so totally Hollywood, that you can’t help but like it. Some of the action sequences are also pretty fun – Gambon’s death scene is especially entertaining (and unintentionally funny).
And even though the lead foursome do so much as give performances as they do ‘pose’, they do look good in their parts – especially Slater and Grieco who look right at home in their 30s garb. And though most of the cast were totally miscast, Chris Penn, playing one of the heavy’s, er, guys, is quite good. You actually like this guy – even though he’s later revealed to be a traitor – and give a shit when they decide he has to go down.
This is one of those movies that if you’re channel-flipping one night and come across you’re sucked into immediately – glossy Hollywood fluff that lobotomizes the legacy of the four main gangsters but does it in style.

Why is it so bad it’s good? : Did I mention Michael Gambon plays a Sicilian Gangster and Christian Slater plays Lucky Luciano?

– CLINT MORRIS

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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