Jane Austen’s Mafia! (1998) — A gangster spoof that you can’t fuggedabout

“I’m always going to be That Protestant Chick Who Never Killed Anybody!”

Justin’s rating: I fought the law, and the law won… some FABULOUS HOME PRIZES!

Justin’s review: Okay, here’s how public film testing should work for comedies. It would be very simple: each participant would be given a clipboard with a list of all of the jokes (visual and verbal) from the film, with two boxes to check — Funny, and Not As Funny As You Think. While watching the movie, the cinema lemming would go down the list, checking all willy-nilly, and the movie studios could finally figure out a few things.

For one, a bulk (say 59%) of so-called “comedies” are mislabeled and falsely advertised to the point of partial brain damage. Now, tell me you haven’t ever rented a film that was sitting on the COMEDY shelf only to get to the end credits without smiling once, never mind laughing like a hyperactive owl! And Hollywood, any movie that has the words “Whoopi” and “Goldberg” in the credits somewhere… that isn’t comedy!

They could also figure out that pretty much every “joke” in a dark comedy is only considered funny if you belong to that limited demographic that includes death row inmates and most film critics.

This sort of checklist would be useful for spoofarody movies like Jane Austen’s Mafia! (Sundance Winner 1998: Best Movie Title In Show), if nothing else than to figure out if the laugh-to-polite-cough ratio is right on target or wildly out of whack. Sure, you’re not going to get 100% of hilarity or even close, considering how different jokes (such as subtle political satire) hit different demographic funny bones (such as the Vomit Lovers of America). But if you’re sitting in one of these rapid-fire gagfests, you better be laughing at least once a minute, or something’s horribly wrong.

Directed by Jim Abrahams, one of the geniuses behind Hot Shots! and Airplane!, Mafia! is comfortable treading ground where the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team has traveled many a time. Pick a genre (“Mafia flicks”), highlight one or two movies from that genre to mainly parody (Godfather and Casino), and dump excess dignity to make room for as many jokes as is tastelessly possible. Unfortunately for Abrahams and the spotty history of parody movies, they bet against the house here.

The problem isn’t necessarily with Jane Austen’s Mafia! itself. It’s honestly a passable 80 minutes of spoofitry (my goal for today is to make up many new variations on a single word), with enough jokes that I keep re-renting this every year or two to while away a romantic summer evening. The problem is that the films chosen to parody, while well-known critically, aren’t as mainstream as, say, any movie that the Scary Movie series has picked to photocopy. The Godfather and Casino parodies are well-done, but unless you’re very familiar with the source, there goes 50% of your jokes right there.

Plus, we have to deal with the iffyness of the lead actor, Jay Mohr. Now, I’m sure that Mohr is a fine human and earns enough in stand-up comedy to keep Kibbles ‘n Bits on the dinner plate, but Mafia! proves that he’s just not that “funny-funny” level to carry such a comedy on his pasty white shoulders. I see Jay Mohr, I think Jerry McGuire and how loathsome he was in that… so loathsome that I still have problems accepting him in any role other than “Demon Torturee #4”.

Still, Jim Abrahams knows how to entertain his guests, and I genuinely like how there are touches of sheer artistry (such as the Jaws parody in the pool, or how the Italian townsfolk smuggle a kid out of the village) among the common scraps of mediocrity. Looking for a halfway-safe bet for a so-so enjoyable night? Rent the movie with the title that guarantees your girlfriend will be saying, “I thought you said this was PRIDE AND PREJUDICE!”

Didja notice?

  • “Democratic National Committee” on the garbage truck
  • “Watchouto Guard Sheep” sign
  • The White Zone joke is back
  • Scarface homage
  • The Jaws parody — probably the best to date!
  • The Saddam lookalike (back from Hot Shots!)
  • Hehe those cute dinos from Jurassic Park!

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