Lionsgate // 2002 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Kevin Lee (Retired) // February 21st, 2003
These waitresses are about to turn the tables on The Mob.
I've always tended to enjoy gangster movies. Any film involved with The Mob tends to pique my interest, which might explain why my absolute favorite film is Miller's Crossing, or why my favorite television show is The Sopranos. Of course it helps if the film or TV show in question has quality writing, acting, cinematography and pacing. With David Anspaugh's résumé including solid films like Rudy and Hoosiers, I might have hoped a film that he made about The Mob might have yielded some quality viewing. But then I noticed Mariah Carey (Glitter) was starring in Wisegirls, a film about three waitresses in a Mob restaurant befriend each other and get themselves in too deep with their surroundings. Since there was no way any studio was going to release Wisegirls, Lions Gate brought it direct to video and it's now available on DVD.
Meg (Mira Sorvino, Might Aphrodite, Mimic) is moving to Long Island to escape some trouble in her past. She moves in with her grandmother, who's suffering from Alzheimer's, and manages to land a job at an Italian restaurant, Santalino's, featuring fine dining and a definite "family" atmosphere. In between getting hit on by the clientele, Meg strives to stay out of the way of the porcine misogynist, Gio (Joseph Siravo), who serves as the manager and happens to be a mean drunk. She also befriends two of the waitresses, Raychel (Carey) and Kate (Melora Walters, Boogie Nights, Cabin Boy), who take Meg under their wings. Though Meg has a difficult time fitting in at first, she becomes indentured into the workings of the family business when one of the boys takes a bad hit and shoots off his nose. Since Meg is a former medical student, she manages to save the poor slob's life and earns the eternal gratitude of Mr. Santalino (Arthur Nascarella, Knockaround Guys), the family patriarch. When Mr. Santalino offers a hefty bonus for services rendered, Meg wants nothing more than to decline the gift but is forced to take it by Raychel. Time passes, and the three women become the closest friends, even vowing during a birthday celebration that they'll return to that spot the following year no matter where there lives might lead them. This is when things take a bad turn for Meg. During a wedding celebration, a drunken Gio hits and bloodies here, causing Mr. Santalino and his son Frankie (Christian Maelen) to bludgeon Gio to death. Since Meg has medical training, they force her at gunpoint to cut Gio's body up at the meat shop. Since Meg has seen too much and is in far too deep, her future seems to be in jeopardy.
Saying that Wisegirls isn't nearly as good as a top-tier gangster movie like Reservoir Dogs is an accurate statement. Saying that Wisegirls isn't nearly as good as Mrs. Beanie's Third Grade adaptation and performance of Reservoir Dogs might be mean-spirited and uncalled for, but it's also accurate. This film is a vast mess, and it's difficult to figure out where to begin with the criticism.
Let's start with the horrendous pacing of Wisegirls, which plods along with the quickness of a 500-pound man carrying a piano while running a marathon. The overall story consists of the women at work, then some female bonding, then the women at work, and then some female bonding, and then the women at work again, and then some more female bonding. While it's great to see some genuine effort at character development, I find it necessary to point out that nothing significant happens in Wisegirls until Gio is put to death, and that happens at the 66-minute mark. Once Meg cuts the body up, there's a full twenty minutes left to bring the film and all of its subplots to resolution (including a plot twist I honestly didn't see coming), causing everything following to seem rushed and forced. That is, if you managed to stay awake through the first hour.
Then there's the problem with the plot holes that abound. I never really knew that mobsters were so eager to have waitresses enter their world and be material witnesses to major crimes. I also never realized that it took a medical degree to take a hacksaw and a meat grinder to a corpse. After watching The Sopranos for four seasons and witnessing Furio and Christopher accomplish this without so much as a high school diploma, I was left scratching my head by this part of Wisegirls. Additionally, Meg's reasons for coming to Long Island (her dark secrets from her past) are blurted out during one of those moments of female bonding, and the situation is so beyond ludicrous that I had to hit the pause button so I could light myself on fire. Why is it that screenwriters find the need to come up with bizarre situations so the audience can somehow identify with the character's innate sadness and misery? The situation in question was a car accident, and car accidents have been known to happen and claim lives (in this case Meg's fiancé). To try to deepen the impact of the car accident, a set of outlandish situations surround it, and when a tearful Meg cries out and lets her friends know what happened, the situation becomes increasingly unbelievable and any impact that might have been there in the writer's mind is suddenly lost.
It also probably didn't help too much that Mariah Carey's performance bordered on the area of "Lousy" on the scale from "One to Awesome." Carey is perfectly adept at dropping F-bombs and "whatevers" on cue, but at any point when she needs to display any sort of emotion, she comes across with a near smile on her face that just doesn't seem to go away. She approaches moments of joy with the same range that she uses to approach moments of depression and sadness, and this simply doesn't work at any point during Wisegirls. Admittedly, she's better in this film than she was in the abominable Glitter (which I saw about ten minutes of before the convulsions started), but this is also like saying that Hitler was a better dictator than Mussolini. Carey's rabid followers and fans will likely disagree with my assessment of her acting skills, but she sadly belongs in the same class of acting as Madonna (Swept Away), Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard), and Britney Spears (Crossroads). My life would be complete if I never had to witness another film by any of these women ever again. If Anspaugh desperately needed someone to play an Italian Princess stereotype, why couldn't any effort have been made to sign Drea de Matteo (Adriana on The Sopranos), who would have been beyond perfect for this role.
As for the rest of the cast, Melora Walters manages a capable performance, but her character just doesn't fit the actress by the end of the film. Considering the secret that this character is harboring, I can almost let this slide, but I still had a difficult time with the growth of her on-screen persona. I'll always believe that Mira Sorvino is a talented actress, but has anybody fallen farther and quicker in Hollywood than Sorvino? A few years ago she was winning Academy Awards for Mighty Aphrodite, starring in big-budget sci-fi films like Mimic, and making semi-cool actioners with Chow Yun-Fat. Why the sudden plunge to crappy movies like Wisegirls? I just don't get it. Sorvino gives a decent performance, but the script just isn't there to help her out and Anspaugh doesn't do her any favors with his disappointing, sub par directing.
On a final, parting rant, why is it that organizations like the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League are pursuing action against The Sopranos, a show that skirts around any Italian stereotypes, while movies like Wisegirls are allowed to happen unimpeded? (Before anyone says anything, I'll point out that people have actually watched and enjoyed The Sopranos while nobody has ever heard of Wisegirls. It's much easier to make noise about something that people have heard of.) John Meadows' script, at last count, included every single negative stereotype and cliché associated with Italian-Americans and mobster behavior. If anti-defamation groups are going to get upset about stereotyping, they should be going after movies like Wisegirls.
The video presentation is a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, but sadly it is non-anamorphic. The sound presentation features a flat 2.0 channel sound field. Long live low budgets! The picture itself is capable, with colors and flesh tones all appearing at proper levels, and I didn't notice any edge enhancement or other major problems, but this is not a DVD that is going to set the world on fire. The "Special Features" are listed as including great things like subtitles and interactive menus, which is to say that there are no special features. Do marketing departments really have this need to list standard functions of DVD technology as "special" to make themselves feel like they're earning their paychecks?
I can pretty much guarantee that you will only want to see this movie if you're a hardcore Mariah Carey fan. Otherwise, there's nothing to see here; move along, people.
Wisegirls is found guilty of being a mob film wannabe, and guilty of being a chick flick in mob flick clothing. This one's sentenced to being carved up at Satriale's.
Review content copyright © 2003 Kevin Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R