It feels odd to say it, but one expected more from Mafia Mamma. It was unlikely to be the next comedy masterpiece, but it still could have been disposable fun. After all, even the most flawed of comedy films can often manage to find something silly when it has the talented Toni Collette at the lead. She is once more undeniably committed to the bit, bringing some chuckles mainly in key moments of her delivery, but it turns out the bit just isn’t all that funny. The premise of a woman who unexpectedly becomes the head of her departed grandfather’s mafia empire in Italy could result in some more outrageous and ridiculous scenarios. Unfortunately, save for a few exceptions, the film never embraces this potential and instead just remains strangely tame. It is caught between wanting to be more of a dark comedy with violence and gore while also playing it by the book. Though never entirely disastrous, it strands Collette and the rest of its cast in a cinematic no man’s land with nowhere to really go.


This begins with an already belabored setup that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the film. In it, we get to know Kristin (Collette) whose life is not turning out quite how she had hoped it would. Her son has recently gone off to college and she just discovered that her loser husband was having an affair. When she gets a call that her grandfather that she never knew has died, she decides to leave all this behind in order to use his funeral as an excuse to take a trip to Italy. Mostly, she is just hoping to get laid and maybe eat some good food. That fantasy vacation all gets upended when she discovers her grandfather was actually the head of a mafia empire and now wants her to run it.

With the help of Bianca (Monica Bellucci) and some spiffy new clothes, Kristin reluctantly steps into this new role. While it initially takes some getting used to, she soon begins to thrive more than she ever did in the life she was living before. No longer does she have to put up with her sexist boss at work as she is now the one in charge of her own life. However, just as she begins to find her footing in this world of crime, complications come knocking and threaten to destroy the luxurious life she has built.

Image via Bleecker Street

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Mafia Mamma is one of those movies where, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve basically seen the entire thing. There is romance, conflict, and twists that all attempt to supposedly serve as a skewering of a crime drama film like The Godfather that gets referenced multiple times. While not an outright parody, the majority of its hit-or-miss jokes come from seeing Kristin bumble her way through each new classic scenario. In this regard, it is more like any number of the many fish-out-of-water comedies from the last several decades. If these types of films are up your alley, there might just be something that connects in all Mafia Mamma throws out there.

The trouble is that it all feels generic as each new escalation is built upon the same idea that it just dresses up a little differently. Essentially, it keeps asking the same question of “wouldn’t it be wild if this character whose life was boring was suddenly thrust into a life of crime?” While still generic, for a little while you are able to go along with this. There is one early scene involving an attempted poisoning and a creative use of a shoe as a weapon that gets darkly gruesome. Though it is undeniably built around making the viewer a bit uncomfortable in the vein of cringe comedy, at least there was something more surprising to it. The rest of the film is not, feeling more like the recent Murder Mystery 2 in how it offers up small bites of something more bold and brash only to fall back into being more of the same.

For all the ways Collette can squeeze some comedy out of more biting line deliveries, Kristin is as one-dimensional as the rest of the film around her. Throughout the entire story, which seems to take place over several months, it felt like there should be a moment where we leave behind the character we knew at the beginning to explore other comedic ideas. In a similar yet far superior film like 2015’s Spy, the humor came from seeing how a person could change into someone new. It was a comedy by surprise as it challenged your expectations of what we had come to know of what this character was capable of. In Mafia Mamma, the character we know at the beginning is one we are told goes through a change without ever really feeling it. It tries to get as much mileage as it can out of the incongruity of Kristin’s past life with the one she is trying to acclimate to, but it runs completely out of steam. It throws in a couple of twists you see coming from a mile away in an attempt to keep things moving, but they can’t pull you in any deeper in what remains a superficial comedy lacking in a necessary degree of cleverness.

Image via Bleeker Street

By the time it gets to the conclusion, even what is a clear visual reference to another film just feels tacked on. There is never a sense that Collette is phoning it in, but the entire narrative around her is just too flimsy to hold together for a full feature. In isolation, there are some solid gags and throwaway jokes that connect. The trouble is that they are just increasingly few and far between. It all makes for a film that oddly feels like it is playing it safe, relying on the charisma of its lead and offering little else beyond that. While more forgettable than anything else, the most memorable part of Mafia Mamma is just how little it actually leans into what could and should have been a vulgar romp. Any hints we get of this better comedy are dashed over and over in what proves to be a tepid trip to Italy that you’ll wish you could depart.

Rating: C-

Mafia Mamma is in theaters starting April 14.

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