Review | ‘Mafia Mamma’: Looking for love, Toni Collette gets lethal instead

(1.5 stars)

Born in that treacherous genre wasteland between mobster movie and midlife rom-com — and centering on a woman scorned who gets her groove back after inheriting a criminal empire — “Mafia Mamma” is a strange hybrid of the “Godfather” films, “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Eat, Pray, Love” — all of which are explicitly named-checked in the featherbrained screenplay by J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon, TV writers known for their work on such sitcoms as “Not Dead Yet,” “A.P. Bio” and “Kevin From Work.” That this lumpy, unfunny and at times shockingly violent film was directed by Catherine Hardwicke, creator of the acclaimed coming-of-age drama “Thirteen” and the box-office smash “Twilight,” and that it stars Toni Collette, an Oscar nominee for “The Sixth Sense,” merely adds to the sense of “What were these people thinking?”

Collette plays Kristin, a 50-something American who works in pharmaceutical marketing with a team of sexist/ageist pigs. When she gets a call informing her that the Italian grandfather she never met (Alessandro Bressanello) has died and that she must immediately fly to Italy to settle his estate and wine business, she’s at first reluctant to go.

That is, until she catches her husband (Tim Daish) having sex with someone else in the basement. Easy decision, right?

No sooner has her plane touched down than she meets Lorenzo (Giulio Corso), a sexy younger man whose sexual attention and amazing ability to cook pasta — a low bar, admittedly — keep her occupied. Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say they take Kristin’s mind off the fact that she has just been named the new head of the Balbano crime family — Balbano is her maiden name — a family whose long-simmering feud with the rival Romanos has exploded into the open with a series of public bloodbaths. We see the aftermath of the one that killed Kristin’s grandpa in the opening scene, and there’s another one at his funeral. It will not be the last.

More murders follow, as representatives of the Romano family try to knock Kristin off, and she instead kills them (in one case accidentally, and in another case quite spectacularly, after a hit man tries to rape her.)

It’s all played for laughs, which fail to materialize in a story that milks easy cliches and stereotypes about Italians, pasta and sexual double-entendres, with icky dialogue about “spicy sausage” and the like.

At heart, though, the film is sort of a revenge fantasy, one that seems targeted squarely at an audience of women who have, justifiably, grown sick of being made to feel invisible after a certain age by their male contemporaries: desexualized when compared with younger women and dismissed for their talents and intelligence. This theme is driven home by the growing friendship between Kristin and Bianca (Monica Bellucci), the Balbano family consigliere who tells Kristin, “Never let a man dictate who you are or what you can do.”

Whether it’s Kristin’s philandering ex; her hotheaded cousin Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta) — the protagonist’s rival for the job of Balbano family capo; her lover Lorenzo, who has something to hide; or any number of other male adversaries, antagonists and assassins, the film handles them with approaches ranging from a snide put-down to being tossed into a grape macerating machine.

Ironically, especially in the last case, it’s all a bit too tidy. A divorce is finalized, a criminal charge is dismissed, a woman comes into her own. So what if a few appendages have to be chopped off and a couple hundred bullets have to fly in the process?

R. At area theaters. Contains bloody violence, sexual material and coarse language. 101 minutes.

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