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Review: Tonal whiplash and lazy writing misses the mark in ‘Mafia Mamma’

(Bleecker Street)

The summer movie season is quickly approaching, but until then studios are cleaning house and dumping some of their not-so-great movies on screens. 

One such sacrificial offering is Catherine Hardwicke’s “Mafia Mamma,” starring the usually reliable Toni Collette as Kristin, an American mom, businesswoman, and wife whose life is a mess. After inheriting her Italian grandfather’s organized crime empire, she attempts to run the family business with the help of consigliere Bianca (Monica Bellucci) and can’t help but try to control things in her own Americanized way. What follows is supposed to be a series of hilarious and violent fish-out-of-water hijinks, but the opposite actually occurs in this lazy, racist, and boring action/comedy.

Toni Collette in “Mafia Mamma.” (Bleecker Street)

As their characters attempt to form a bond while combining their different approaches to the mafia, Collette and Bellucci produce some genuinely funny moments, granting the film a semblance of realism. But rather than build off that chemistry, the screenplay by TV writers J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon leans on organized crime clichés and other exaggerations of Italian culture. Though a handful of broad comedic moments land, they mix poorly with the film’s darkly “funny” violence, resulting in dull scenes with minimal emotional stakes. 

Toni Collette, Sophia Nomvete and Alfonso Perugini in “Mafia Mamma.” (Bleecker Street)

Among those few successes are when “Mafia Mamma” relies on Collette’s physical comedy skills. Her wide-eyed, surprised performance gives the action sequences needed tension, and one moment on a Zoom call is especially hilarious, striking the right tonal balance between over-the-top comedy and shocking violence. 

But even more problematic than the above issues is Hardwicke’s direction. Though she showed a decent eye for action in “Twilight,” “Red Riding Hood,” and “Miss Bala,” that skill set is absent here, and her inability to combine “Mafia Mamma’s” frequent shootouts with comedy is frustrating to endure. The consistent tonal imbalance turns “Mafia Mamma” into a downright stupid genre homage and one of 2023’s first cinematic misfires.

Star Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

“Mafia Mamma” is now playing in theaters.

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