If you loved The Naked Gun, Hot Shots! and Airplane! - well, you may like Jane Austen's Mafia! But don't bother looking for a movie with that title at your friendly neighborhood multiplex. The jokey reference to the author of Emma and Sense and Sensibility has been dropped from advertising and promotional materials, after studio-sponsored focus-group interviews indicated that the target audience for this sort of comedy had no idea who Jane Austen is. Or was. The full title remains on view in the movie itself, but it's just plain Mafia! everywhere else.
Whatever you want to call it, Mafia! is the latest effort of Jim Abrahams, the co-creator of Airplane! and The Naked Gun, comedies that set the standard and established the style for movies that spoof other movies. This new one is a parody of the Godfather trilogy, Mar-tin Scorsese's Casino - and just about anything else that popped into A-brahams' brain during production. There are references to Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, The English Patient and even Il Postino.
Unfortunately, most of the funniest stuff has already been showcased in tv spots and coming-attractions trailers. Even more unfortunately, Mafia! - like most other comedies of its kind - is very much a hit-and-miss thing. For every joke that inspires a belly laugh, there are five or six more that misfire. Of course, it doesn't help matters that, when Abrahams and his co-writers run out of other movies to spoof, they resort to drearily unimaginative gags about flatulence and projectile vomiting.
The late Lloyd Bridges has a few amusing scenes as Don Vincenzo, the addled godfather of the Cortino crime family. Borrowing a time-tripping structure from The Godfather, Part II, Abrahams shows how little Vincenzo (played as a boy by Jason Fuchs) swam all the way to America from his Sicilian village of Salmonella - "The Home of Warm Mayonnaise" - after running afoul of a local crime boss. By the time Bridges takes over the role, the character is firmly established as brilliant but hopelessly klutzy. Bridges emphasizes the klutzy part, and he gets a fair share of laughs simply by maintaining a straight face while muddling through the frantic foolishness.
Much the same can be said of Jay Mohr as Anthony Cortino, Don Vin-cenzo's war-hero son. Like Al Pacino in the first Godfather, Mohr plays a straight-arrow type who evolves into a cold-blooded killer - and, eventually, a ruthless mafia chief - to avenge the family honor after his father's attempted murder. Anthony rarely has an easy time of it, even when he's simply trying to locate a gun that has been hidden for him in a restaurant bathroom.
Even funnier are the scenes in Las Vegas, where Anthony hides out after killing his father's would-be killers. Mafia! devotes much of its running time to lampooning Casino, even to the point of starting off with an explosive scene that shows why good fellas should always check under the hood before starting a car. It's not the most inspired moment in movie history, but at least it has the saving grace of seeming relatively fresh - unlike The Godfather, Casino hasn't already been done to death, so to speak, as a target for satire.
When Anthony becomes a fabulously successful casino manager, he strolls past tables where high-rollers are betting their bankrolls on Chutes and Ladders, go fish and "guess the number." ("Two?" an eager gambler inquires. "Sorry," says the dealer as he rakes away the money, "I was thinking of three.") Later, Anthony becomes romantically involved with a Sharon Stone clone, an amazingly athletic dancer named Pepper Gianini (Pamela Gidley). She's a hoot, and so is the movie's Diane Keaton figure, aptly named Diane. Played by Christina Applegate, Diane is the quintessential WASP and, as such, the eternal outsider in a Mafia clan. Or, as she complains, "I don't belong, Anthony. I'm always gonna be that Protestant chick who never killed anyone!" Chalk that up as one of the movie's better moments.