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Case Number 12884

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Mobsters (HD DVD)

Universal // 1991 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // February 2nd, 2008

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All Rise...

If Judge Christopher Kulik ever found himself on a roulette table with Lara Flynn Boyle, he would bet six on the nine!

The Charge

See what happens when you let your kids play with guns?

Opening Statement

A forgotten gangster flick from the early 90s is given the HD treatment by Universal, but as the real-life Lucky Luciano would no doubt say, "This film ain't that good!"

Facts of the Case

New York, 1917: four childhood friends—two Italian, two Jewish—live in low-income dwellings and learn about survival on the streets. Five years later, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano (Christian Slater, Heathers) and his three associates are fast becoming the toughest gangsters to hit the streets during Prohibition. There is the slick Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey, Grey's Anatomy), ladies man Bugsy Siegal (Richard Greico, If Looks Could Kill), and diplomatic Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor, Saw III), who are all growing under the tutelage of underworld kingpin Arnold Rothstein (Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus). However, Luciano is wooed by rival Don Giuseppe Masseria (fellow Oscar winner Anthony Quinn, A Walk in the Clouds), which threatens not only his reputation but also his solid friendship with his childhood friends.

The Evidence

It must have looked good on paper. The idea of depicting the early years of four infamous gangsters must have sounded like box office gold. However, it turned out to be a gigantic flop. Mobsters is a mess of a movie that actually takes itself seriously, which in turn makes it a dull, dismal misfire, with more plot holes than a fully loaded Tommy gun could make after being completely fired. The miscasting of the leads resulted in some laughable performances, and the story (courtesy of Michael Mahern) has no snazz or pizzazz whatsoever. However, even I must admit that this film isn't a total failure, considering the fact there are stylistic flourishes and choice contributions, particularly on the technical side. In short, Mobsters did have potential, but it's awkwardly executed at best.

Now, I must make a confession here: generally, I'm not a big fan of gangster pics. Of course, there are exceptions, like the original 1932 version of Scarface, and the 2002 masterpiece Road to Perdition. However, it seems like gangster films all seem to have the same, familiar ingredients, and Mobsters is no exception. People get shot and killed, the gangsters eat a lot of pasta, there is a lot of gambling, somebody ends up betraying someone else, the subjects are charismatic but immoral, etc., etc., etc. The major difference here is the quasi-novelty of watching gangsters who look like they just got out of college with Masters Degrees in massacring (along with minors in maiming). Nice try, but no cigar. It might have worked, too, if Mahern and Nicholas Kazan's screenplay wasn't so derivative and misguided (and not to mention historically inaccurate), but it was.

The biggest faults lie with the casting, however. Christian Slater tries hard as Luciano, but he comes off more like a model for GQ than a young gangster; in addition, his Italian accent trails off and disappears in every other scene. Capable actor Patrick Dempsey is slightly better, though he actually gave a better performance in Meatballs III. Grieco's spitting and smiling approach comes off as unintentionally hilarious, and Costas Mandylor is one note and thoroughly one-dimensional as the colorful Costello. Quinn actually gives one of the best performances, along with the supersexy Lara Flynn Boyle (Threesome), who plays Luciano's dancer girlfriend. Sadly, her screen time is so limited, though she manages to heat things up whenever she appears. Case in point: a steamy sex scene in which Slater and Boyle start making out on a roulette table (man, that Wayne Campbell was such an idiot!).

Universal presents Mobsters on HD DVD for the first time, though the results are mediocre at best; the picture itself seems drab and gloomy, with colors not as crisp as expected. In other words, for a movie from 1991, it looks like a movie from 1991. The real juice comes from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track, which is ideal for a film like Mobsters, as the gun battles sound sonically superior than most films on regular DVD. The DD Plus tracks in English and French sound fine too, and the film is also available in English and French subtitles. As for special features, there is zilch, not counting the "My Scenes" option, which I don't really consider much of a bonus. (Needless to say, I didn't save any movie clips.)

The Rebuttal Witnesses

As I said earlier, Mobsters is not a total waste, as there are some technical contributions to savor. The biggest kudos go to Ellen Mirojnick's costumes and two-time Oscar winner Richard Sylbert's production design, which both evoke a 1920s feel and flavor. Unfortunately, despite the handsome production values, I had lost all interest by the film's final half hour, as the story and acting got way too hokey for words.

Closing Statement

Director Michael Karbelnikoff never did direct another Hollywood film, though he did go on to direct several episodes of the Red Shoe Diaries; I guess including the roulette romp on the resume worked!

The Verdict

The court finds the film guilty and sentences these four kids to sleep with the fishes.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 91
Extras: 5
Acting: 64
Story: 48
Judgment: 62

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
Audio Formats:
• TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 Surround (French)
• English
• French
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Crime
• Gangster

Distinguishing Marks

• My Scenes


• IMDb

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