Metro Weekly

‘Mafia Mamma’ Review: Mafia Miss

Toni Collette's madcap mob comedy 'Mafia Mamma' is drowning in blood and bullets instead of laughs.

Toni Collette in ‘Mafia Mamma’

Big-screen comedy has been a brutal business since the very beginning. Slapstick pioneers Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton were throwing themselves in front of trains, and off of buildings, just for a laugh. But even by those standards, the comedies of 2023 go harder than a whole house falling on Steamboat Bill.

For a laugh this season, you can watch a blitzed black bear snort coke off a severed leg in Cocaine Bear, or see limbs, heads, and a face torn off by Nicolas Cage’s Prince of Darkness in Renfield. Funny thing is, those films actually elicit laughs by flaunting gruesome violence that, while outlandish and in some cases flat-out gross, fits the circumstances and gonzo energy that rules those joints from start to finish.

Audiences for the seemingly breezy mob action-comedy Mafia Mamma (★★☆☆☆), however, might really not expect to see Toni Collette — starring as suburban American mom Kristin, tapped to succeed her deceased Italian grandfather as the head of a Calabrian crime family — plunge a stiletto heel into some guy’s eye, then wriggle the heel around in the socket good and deep before gouging the eyeball out and watching it roll across the floor.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, of Twilight and Thirteen fame, working from a script by TV writers Debbie Jhoon and Michael J. Feldman, never nails the tone of this genre mashup, landing further towards the action end of the action-comedy spectrum than this lightweight, and plainly implausible, plot can truly withstand.

Of course, it’s ludicrous that, in the midst of a deadly war with the rival Romano family, headed by seductive boss Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta), Kristin’s gramps, Don Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), would entrust generations of family business to an unassuming copywriter he doesn’t know.

But we might just relax and enjoy the outrageous ride, given the lush Italian scenery, and the presence of national treasure Monica Bellucci as Don Balbano’s most trusted general, Bianca. Tasked with orienting Kristin to the ways of the mafia, Bianca, very much the straight man in that buddy pairing, would appear the obvious choice to succeed the boss.

The movie works its way around to explaining the contrivance of instead bringing in Kristin to take the reins of the Balbano organization, but the premise just doesn’t hold as a compelling crime story.

That’s despite one madcap gunfight after another, secret identity intrigue that threatens to ensnare Kristin, and more bloody mob violence than a Godfather marathon. Henchmen carving up a corpse gets played for laughs in a scene that typically misjudges the delicate line between ha-ha-funny gore, and just ewww. Meanwhile, Collette, an able comedian, usually brilliant at playing cowed but soon-to-overcome, plays out Kristin’s awakening from passive, cheated-on wife to take-no-prisoners badass. Yet, again, the premise fails her, and the direction too often just misses the laugh.

Hardwicke, and editor Waldemor Centeno, do construct a fun, frenzied chase and shootout early on, set at the funeral of Don Balbano. And Collette’s steamy chemistry with Scarpetta’s rival boss adds a tinge of lust that opens the door to amusing interactions every time those two share a room.

Monica Bellucci in 'Mafia Mamma'
Monica Bellucci in ‘Mafia Mamma’

Too often, though, the film leans on the Don’s bumbling henchmen Dante (Alfonso Perugini) and Aldo (Francesco Mastroianni), doofuses who check all the boxes of mob Italian stereotypes, but at least they’re funny — overused and underdeveloped, but funny. Mafia Mamma should have spread around more of what that duo brings to the table — and perhaps fewer decapitated heads.

Mafia Mamma is playing in theaters nationwide, including Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinemas. Visit or

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