Right from the opening titles, which unroll to the sound of Rosemary Clooney singing a strange song called Mambo Italiano, it is obvious that Married to the Mob is not going to be a predictable gangster farce. For one thing, it is a Jonathan Demme movie: a candy-colored confection of cool kitsch and some nifty comedy, with a sound track so good that almost nothing else seems to matter. Among American directors,
Demme is comfortable on the cutting edge of pop culture. He takes clichés, bends them and shuffles them into odd combinations, like a record producer playing with studio effects. Married to the Mob is a movie about the beauty of bad taste in America.
Italian gangsters who live in vulgar suburban homes and get together in garish hotel rooms serve as easy targets for Demme’s satire. It is an enjoyable movie with a beat you can dance to.
But the catchy rhythms and sharp colors seem a little too familiar—like a song by a band trying to reproduce the success of a hit single.
In fact, Married to the Mob is perilously similar to Demme’s previous hit, Something Wild (1986). Once again, a shy, straight, goofy guy is seduced by a street-smart woman who is much sexier than he is. Again, midway through the film, the heroine undergoes a striking change in hairstyle that seems as significant as anything else that happens to her. And again, Jamaican culture—a trendy antidote to the tacky world of Italian mobsters—is prominently featured.
The movie begins with a variation on the suburban-housewife blues. Angela (Michelle Pfeiffer) is married to a mobster, whose idea of a day’s work is carrying out a contract killing on a commuter train. At home, when he asks, “Where is my revolver?” his young son fishes the weapon out of a kitchen drawer. Angela is fed up with the mon-
ey-laundered lifestyle of a mob wife and she demands a divorce. But later that night, her husband is murdered by his Mafia boss, Tony (Dean Stockwell), who discovers him with his mistress in a motel hot tub. At the funeral, Tony makes the widow an amorous offer that leaves her no room to refuse.
Determined to start a new life, Angela flees her Long Island, N.Y., sub-
urb and moves into a squalid flat on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But she is followed by the mob—and by an FBI surveillance team led by an earnest detective named Mike (Matthew Modine). Mike has a convincing cover. He neither looks nor acts like a cop. Angela, who thinks that he is just a friendly plumber who lives upstairs, is lonely. And after her life with the mob, she is delighted to meet a man who seems totally lacking in machismo.
Pfeiffer and Modine make an odd couple. Pfeiffer is gorgeous. Cruising the fine line between sweet innocence and seductive savvy, she has the onscreen presence of a major Hollywood star. Modine, with his lanky features and Silly Putty grin, mugs his way
through as her unlikely leading man. Meanwhile, Stockwell portrays Tony like a crisply drawn cartoon of a Mafia boss. And Mercedes Ruehl adds an overplayed note of loud, broad comedy as Tony’s insanely jealous wife, the only person he seems to be afraid of.
Demme has created a chic cops-androbbers romance that is not terrifically funny, especially in the stretches of flat-out farce. But the film percolates with amusing asides and ironic details. Much of the comedy consists simply of outrageous decor. A turquoise suite in a Miami hotel serves as the set for a grand shootout—a slow-motion parody of a Miami Vice finale. And the best jokes are fired deadpan from the hip. As Angela is being blackmailed by the police, she says, “You work just like the mob.” A detective replies: “There’s a big difference. The mob is run by murdering, thieving, cheating, lying psychotics. We work for the President of the United States.”
With its cheeky humor, its kaleidoscopic images and a sound track that ranges from Rosemary Clooney to Ziggy Marley, Married to the Mob forms a rich pop-culture collage. Esthetically, it is a delight. Yet, as a whole, it is empty and forgettable. There is no doubting the talent of its director. But he has proven his ingenuity so thoroughly that more is expected of him than just another Jonathan Demme picture.
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