A Movie A Day #103: Mobsters (1991, directed by Michael Karbelnikoff)


The place is New York City.  The time is the prohibition era.  The rackets are controlled by powerful but out of touch gangsters like Arnold Rothstein (F. Murray Abraham), Joe Masseria (Anthony Quinn), and Salvatore Faranzano (Michael Gambon).  However, four young gangsters — Lucky Luciano (Christian Slater), Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey), Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor), and Bugsy Siegel (Richard Greico) — have an ambitious plan.  They want to form a commission that will bring together all of the Mafia families as a national force.  To do it, they will have to push aside and eliminate the old-fashioned mob bosses and take over the rackets themselves.  When Masseria and Faranzano go to war over who will be the new Boss of all Bosses, Luciano and Lansky seen their opportunity to strike.

I love a good gangster movie, which is one reason that I have never cared much for Mobsters. Mobsters was made in the wake of the success of Young Guns and, like that film, it attempted to breathe new life into an old genre by casting teen heartthrobs in the lead roles.  There was nothing inherently wrong with that because Luciano, Lansky, and Seigel were all still young men, in their 20s and early 30s, when they took over the Mafia.  (Costello was 39 but Mobsters presents him as being the same age as they other three.)  The problem was that none of the four main actors were in the least bit convincing as 1920s mobsters.  Christian Slater was the least convincing Sicilian since Alex Cord in The Brotherhood.  As for the supporting cast, actors like Chris Penn and F. Murray Abraham did the best that they could with the material but Anthony Quinn’s performance in Mobsters was the worst of his long and distinguished career.

Fans of Twin Peaks will note that Lara Flynn Boyle had a small role in Mobsters.  She played Luciano’s girlfriend.  Unfortunately, other than looking pretty and dying tragically, she was not given much to do in this disappointing gangster film.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #83: Bad Influence (dir by Curtis Hanson)


Bad_Influence_Film_PosterThough it may seem like a lifetime ago, it’s only been 6 weeks since I started on my latest series of reviews.  I am currently in the process of reviewing, in chronological order, 126 cinematic melodramas.  I started with the 1927 classic Sunrise and now, 82 reviews later, I have finally reached the 1990s.

(Of course, when I started this series of reviews, I somehow managed to convince myself that it would only take me 3 weeks to review 126 films.  Instead, it looks like it’s going to take two months.  So, I was only off by 5 weeks.)

Let’s start the 90s by taking a quick look at a 1990 film called Bad Influence.  I have to admit that, when I made out my list of films to review, Bad Influence was not even on my radar.  I was planning on launching my look at the 90s with a review of Ghost.  But then I saw The Avengers: Age of Ultron and I was so taken with James Spader’s performance as Ultron that  I decided to add a few James Spader films to Embracing the Melodrama.

In Bad Influence, James Spader is cast somewhat against type.  He plays Michael, who has a good job and is engaged to marry the wealthy and overbearing Ruth (who, I was surprised to learn from the end credits, was played by a pre-Desperate Housewives Marcia Cross).  Michael should be happy but instead, he feels oddly dissatisfied with his life.  He’s shy and meek and spends all of his time trying to do the right thing and conform to the petty demands of society.

One day, as he’s sitting in a bar, Michael makes the mistake of trying to flirt with a woman who is obviously having a bad day.  When the woman’s boyfriend shows up, he tells Michael to leave.  When Michael mutters that it’s a free country, the man responds by grabbing Michael.  However, before the fight can go any further, handsome and charming Alex (played, somewhat inevitably, by Rob Lowe) pops up out of nowhere, smashes a bottle, and scares the man off.

Michael and Alex become fast friends, with Michael viewing the extroverted and confident Alex as being everything that he wants to be.  (Meanwhile, Alex seems to appreciate the fact that Michael has money and a nice apartment.)  Under the influence of Alex, Michael starts to stand up for himself and even manages to get a big promotion at work.  At the same time, he also ends up cheating on his fiancée (while Alex films them) , helping Alex hold up a series of convenience stores, and beating up an obnoxious co-worker.

Ultimately, Bad Influence is a lot of sordid fun.  It’s a bit like Fight Club, minus the satire and the big identity twist.  (Michael and Alex are differently separate characters.)  Director Curtis Hanson (who is perhaps best known for L.A. Confidential) brings a lot of style to the film’s tawdry fun and keeps the action moving quickly enough that you don’t have too much time to obsess over what doesn’t make sense.

Finally, James Spader and Rob Lowe are just a lot of fun to watch.  Spader turns Michael into a sympathetic protagonist and Rob Lowe seems to be having a blast going full psycho in his role.

Bad Influence is a well-made B-movie and it’s a lot of fun.  You can watch it below!