In 1988 there was a little movie called “Young Guns.” I’m the sure the pitch to the studio big-wigs was simple…cast some of the hottest young actors as famous old west outlaws. It was a hit and it spawned a 1990 sequel which recruited a few more young up-and-comers to play cowboy, including Christian Slater. The following year, Slater appeared in a film whose pitch probably went something like this…it’s Young Machine Guns! The result was 1991’s “Mobsters.”
The film begins with four young men, two Italian two Jewish, growing up in a New York City neighborhood in 1917. They are Charlie (soon to be “Lucky”) Luciano (Slater), Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey), Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor), and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (Richard Grieco). It’s a rough neighborhood they live in and it’s under the control of two battling Dons, Faranzano (Michael Gambon) and Masseria (Anthony Quinn). These young men have experienced the brutality of these crime families first hand. Faranzano regularly hassles Charlie’s father for payoffs and Masseria is such a slimeball that he stands back and watches as his own nephew, a friend of Charlie’s, is murdered in the street in front of him.
Year’s later, the four industrious young men have gone into business for themselves. First, they team up with the wealthy Arnold Rothstein (F. Murray Abraham) and begin to experience some success. Charlie is the face of the organization, the one who can command the respect of others, Lanskey is the brains, and Costello and Siegel are the muscle. Together, the see to make a name for themselves in the world of organized crime. This means at times aligning themselves with one or the other of these two crime families from their past
Of course, it’s not easy being a gangster. There are attempts on Charlie’s life, one of which leads to a hit on his girlfriend (Lara Flynn Boyle) by a pint-sized hit man (Nicholas Sadler). This pushes Charlie and his boys over the edge and leads to an all out war against the Dons and their old regime.
“Mobsters” might as well be called “The Encyclopedia of Gangster Movie Clichés.” One entry might be A is for Anthony…Anthony Quinn, who pours the gangster act on thicker than the sauce in his momma’s lasagna. B is for Bloody…like over-the-top bloody! C is for Crowded…as in the blatantly backlot Brooklyn set at the film’s open that is so over-crowded, it must have been filmed on Bring-your-family-to-the-movie-shoot Day for the crew. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on like this, but dang! I mean we’ve even got Joe Viterelli in this thing. It must be an unwritten rule that anyone who makes a gangster flick without him in it gets whacked! Still even with more clichés than the number of bullets put into Sonny Corleone, I found myself kind of enjoying this little mess of a movie. This is guilty pleasure territory, for sure. I mean you’ve got to look at the film in that way to accept Michael Gambon as a mob boss. Sorry, but I’m just not buyin’ Professor Dumbledore as a Sicilian.
Even though the marketing of the film highlighted four young actors, it really only focuses on two…Slater and Dempsey. Mandylor and Grieco are really not given a chance to do much other than shoot guns. Slater seems to be coasting a bit on his youthful Jack Nicholson bit, but Dempsey is the real standout. His Meyer Lanskey is vicious and conniving…he’s what makes the organization work. The lanky, somewhat awkward, Dempsey is not an imposing figure by any stretch of the imagination, but his slyly sinister performance fits quite well.
“Mobsters” came within a year that saw several other gangster movies, including “Bugsy” and “The Godfather Part III.” Some may say that Coppola’s final outing with the Corleone family was a bit, let’s say “misguided.” That word doesn’t even begin to describe this film. Yet, it’s still very entertaining.