No one -- no one -- spoofs the movies better than Jim Abrahams, whose canon includes the all-time classic of the genre (and possibly the funniest film ever made), "Airplane!"
His latest, "Mafia!" is a riot when Abrahams -- who made his earlier films with the team of David and Jerry Zucker, known collectively as ZAZ -- sticks with what he does best. He pricks the pomposities of "The Godfather" trilogy with the glee of a baby going after soap bubbles, then goes after a whole range of films with equal abandon, including "Il Postino," "E.T.," "The English Patient," "Casino" and, in a scene that includes the movie's most masterly awful pun, "Forrest Gump."
Unfortunately, Abrahams is not nearly so funny when he tries to come up with his own material. That was true in the ZAZ days -- Stephen Stucker's flighty air-traffic controller, Johnny, was the least-funny part of "Airplane!" -- and it's true here.
Especially when the humor he constantly relies on emanates from his characters' behinds. The classic of the flatulence humor genre has yet to be made ("Blazing Saddles" notwithstanding). Although this one does give Olympia Dukakis the chance to show just how low a former Oscar winner can go.
"Mafia!" follows the Cortino family, from the days when young Vincenzo (Jason Fuchs) was an urchin who ran afoul of the local crime boss back in Italy (and acquired a severed thumb for a good-luck charm) to the ascension of Anthony Cortino to the family throne.
If you've seen "The Godfather," especially parts I and II, you know where "Mafia!" is heading. Young Vincenzo becomes old Vincenzo (a game Lloyd Bridges, in his last role), leader of the clan. There's an attempt on his life, by a midget hiding beneath a priest's robes, which must be avenged by his war-hero son (Jay Mohr).
And there's a death scene set in a garden that answers the question that has puzzled filmgoers for almost three decades: What was Marlon Brando's grandson spraying on those vegetables?
There's plenty of fun to be had -- including a crime compound guarded by sheep and a casino where they simply take your money without the bother of gambling. As with the ZAZ movies, the filmmaking philosophy at work here is to throw as many jokes, puns and spoofs at the wall as possible, and see how many stick. The result: not as many as "Airplane!" but enough. It's only when the film acts like it should be called "Gone With the Wind" that things get tiresome. But that's often enough to cost it a star in my ratings book.
Directed and co-written by Jim Abrahams
Starring Lloyd Bridges, Jay Mohr and Christina Applegate
Released by Touchstone Pictures
Rated PG-13 (crude and sex-related humor, language, violence and drug content)
Running time 93 minutes
Sun score **
Pub Date: 7/24/98