The Clericuzio saga continues and it’s sillier than ever!
The Clericuzios were the Mob family who were first introduced in a Mario Puzo novel called The Last Don. In 1997, CBS turned The Last Don in a three-part miniseries. The ratings were good enough that, in 1999, the network gave the world a two-episode sequel, The Last Don II. The Last Don II was created without the input of Mario Puzo (who died shortly before the miniseries aired) but director Graeme Clifford returned, as did a few members of the cast.
For example, Danny Aiello briefly returns as the honorable but aging Don Domenico Clericuzio, talking about life in the old country and demanding to know why some of his children have yet to marry. Under his leadership, the Clericuzios are almost totally legit and they’ve even become powerful in Hollywood. Claudia De Lena (Michelle Burke) is in charge of the family’s film studio and has recently become engaged to a film star named Dirk Von Schelburg (Andrew Jackson, trying to do an Arnie impersonation but coming across more like Jean-Claude Van Damme). Still, despite the fact that the Clericuzios are (slowly) abandoning organized crime, they haven’t completely cut their ties. They still have enemies. And when Don Clericuzio dies after dancing at his final birthday party, those enemies are set to strike.
Who can run the Clericuzio family? Only one of the Don’s son was actively involved in the underworld aspect of the organization and he’s promptly (and, to be honest, hilariously) crushed when someone drops a shipping crate on him. Another Clericuzio son is gunned down at his legitimate business, proving that someone is trying to take out the entire family, regardless of whether they’re a part of the family business or not. Georgio Clericuzio (David Marciano) goes to Paris and tires to convince Claudia’s brother, Cross (Jason Gedrick), to return from exile to take things over. Cross refuses because he’s happily married to the most famous actress in the world, the improbably named Athena Aquataine (Mo Kelso, replacing Daryl Hannah in the role). However, Athena is subsequently blown up by a bomb that was meant for Cross and that’s all it takes to bring Cross back to America.
Now that Cross is in charge, he sets about to discover who, among the other Families, is targeting the Clericuzios. Helping him out with this is Billy D’Angelo (James Wilder), who we are told is the the most important of the Clericuzios capos, despite the fact that he was neither seen nor mentioned in the previous Last Don. It seems pretty obvious from the start that Billy is not to be trusted. Everyone who has ever seen The Godfather will automatically look at Billy and say, “There’s your rat.” But Cross is a remarkably naïve crime lord. He’s apparently the only guy in the Mafia who has never seen a Mafia movie.
Of course, there’s more going on than just Cross trying to figure out who is targeting the Clericuzio family. His unstable aunt, Rose Marie (Kirstie Alley), wants revenge for the murder of her son Dante but, fortunately, she’s distracted by an affair with the family’s priest (Jason Isaacs, of all people). Disgraced former studio exec Bobby Bantz (Robert Wuhl) is plotting against Claudia. And finally, Cross is falling in love with his stepdaughter’s nanny (Patsy Kensit) despite the fact that it’s kind of obvious that the nanny is actually an undercover FBI agent. Remember what I said about Cross being impossibly naïve?
The Last Don was a fairly silly miniseries. The Last Don 2 is even sillier but, for that every reason, it’s also a bit more entertaining. If the first Last Don was held together by the rivalry between Cross and Dante, the sequel is held together by a nonstop flow of melodrama, overheated dialogue, and thoroughly unsubtle acting. It’s as if the director looked at every over-the-top scene and said, “It’s okay but can we turn things up just a little bit more?” As such, tt’s not enough for Danny Aiello to merely make a cameo before his character dies. Instead, he has to deliver cryptic words of wisdom about family and and honor and he has to do one final, Zorbaesque dance of joy before his heart gives out. Meanwhile, Kirstie Alley really throws herself into playing the insane Rose Marie and whether she’s seducing a priest or hoarsely yelling that she doesn’t know how to ice skate, her performance is always more than strange enough to be watchable. Jason Isaacs, meanwhile, furrows his brow desperately as he tries to resist temptation. Patsy Kensit is the world’s worst FBI agent while Kim Coates shows up as one of her colleagues. Conrad Dunn returns as Lia, the Sicilian assassin with the world’s silliest mustache. Even the presence of Robert Wuhl is less of a problem in the sequel. With everyone chewing up every piece of scenery that they can get their hands on, it somehow makes sense that Robert Wuhl would show up and start yelling, “DON’T LAUGH AT ME!” Somehow, it even seems appropriate that Joe Mantegna receives a “special appearance” credit, even though his character pretty much only appears in the archival footage used during the opening credits. The Last Don II is just that type of miniseries.
Jason Gedrick and James Wilder are both good actors and they both do what they can with the roles of Cross and Billy. Unfortunately, both of them were seriously miscast in The Last Don 2. Neither one of them is the least bit Italian and Wilder was a bit too young to be convincing as the most feared capo in the family. Compared to the classic gangster films that inspired them, both The Last Don and its sequel feels more like gangster cosplay than an actual portrait of life as a member of the Cosa Nostra. Like the first Last Don, The Last Don II suffers from a lack of authenticity but it’s just ludicrous enough to be fun.