Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mobster Movie Trend Slows Down Tough Private Eye 'V. I. Warshawski' and 'Mobsters' Fail to Advance the Genre

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mobster Movie Trend Slows Down Tough Private Eye 'V. I. Warshawski' and 'Mobsters' Fail to Advance the Genre

Article excerpt

EVERY now and then a movie trend materializes right before your eyes, and then it dribbles away again with equal suddenness.

Just last year, a whole batch of gangster movies showed up almost simultaneously. One of these, Martin Scorsese's ambitious "GoodFellas," was excellent. Others, less imposing but still noteworthy, included "The Krays," a Peter Medak film about murderous London twins, and "Miller's Crossing," a tale of vengeance and betrayal by Joel and Ethan Coen, the filmmaking team whose very different "Barton Fink" opened this week.

Unfortunately, the mobster momentum of 1990 has continued feebly into the current season. Last year's pyrotechnics have dwindled to the idiotic posing of "Mobsters" and the gender-reversed macho of "V. I. Warshawski," both of which lack any hint of the energy and inventiveness that distinguished their recent predecessors.

After an advance screening of "Mobsters" not long ago, a critic who saw it with me said it was like watching "The Godfather" performed by the senior class. He's right. The gimmick or "high concept" of the picture, which was directed by former TV commercial-maker Michael Karbelnikoff, is to show four notorious American crooks at the beginning of their criminal careers. We meet them when they're merely young thugs; we watch them form a partnership; we see them consolidate their activities without falling prey to Mafia families that are ferociously jealous of their turf.

This exercise in grim but genuine Americana might have been instructive, or at least entertaining, if it had been made with the skill and liveliness found in most worthwhile Hollywood productions. But it isn't. The acting is clunky, the camera work is ungainly, the screenplay is trite. And the most potentially revealing angle of the story, focusing on the ethnic rivalry between Italian-Americans like Lucky Luciano and Jewish Americans like Meyer Lansky, gets only a glancing and superficial treatment.

Most appalling of all is the ending, when the mobsters have a big meeting and decide to end their internecine rivalries - meaning that henceforth they'll stop murdering, pillaging, and terrorizing one another, and limit their activity to murdering, pillaging, and terrorizing ordinary people like you and me. …

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