Married to the Mob (1988)
★★ / ★★★★
Frank (Alec Baldwin) works for a mobster called Tony “The Tiger” Russo (Dean Stockwell), a man that the FBI has been watching for some time. When Tony discovers that Frank is getting his sloppy seconds, it is the perfect excuse to shoot Frank dead. During his former henchman’s burial, Tony makes a move on Angela (Michelle Pfeiffer), Frank’s wife. This forces the now single woman into an uncomfortable position because she no longer wants to have anything to do with the mob. To assert her independence, she moves to the Lower East Side with her son. This does not stop Tony from wanting to win her over.
“Married to the Mob,” written by Barry Strugatz and Mark R. Burns, is not devoid of humor, romance, or excitement, but it fails to excel at all of them. The mob boss is too outwardly silly and soft to be taken seriously. His henchmen are no better; it seems like not one of them has ever handled a gun before. Is it supposed to be farcical? I assumed it is.
It is fine that the picture has a light-hearted tone, it is supposed to be comedy after all, but its characters do not need to be so obvious all the time that we eventually grow numb to the screenplay’s efforts. There is one action scene involving a burger place that is designed to show how dangerous Tony can be when absolutely necessary, but the set-up feels like it has come from a completely different movie.
Mob bosses are scary not because of their ability to kill. That is probably a major factor for many but capacity for violence does not differentiate a gangster leader from his henchmen. I argue that the inherent fear we have about mob leaders stems from the way they are able to get whatever they want through conversation, silky-smooth charm, or a certain look they give when they mean business. Tony lacks depth. So when Angela feels threatened or disgusted by simply being in his presence, there is no change in the level of suspense. Even when he pulls out a gun, I had a difficult time believing it.
Angela, only a day after she has moved into her new apartment, meets Mike (Matthew Modine), who, unbeknownst to her, is one of the FBI agents, the other being Agent Benitez (Oliver Platt), assigned to spy on her and gather evidence to bring down Tony for good. I enjoyed the scene when the two go on a date (she is the one who asks him out) and share a few drinks. However, when they interact without drinks in hand, I could care less about how their relationship ends up. Naturally, she must find out about his true occupation and has to deal with the fact that she has been used.
The character I was most interested in is Connie (Mercedes Ruehl), Tony’s high-strung wife. Every time she is on screen, there is something off-kilter about her. She is so obsessed about being the wife of Tony, she will do absolutely anything to keep that title. If it means barging in on Angela’s apartment with nothing but a hunch on her side, then so be it. Even if she knows she is in the wrong, she walks away proudly. Ruehl is amusing to watch not because she is trying to be funny but because her character’s suspicion and paranoia become so severe, they take over her completely. I wished the picture was about Connie.
Directed by Jonathan Demme, “Married to the Mob” lacks subtle spice. Sitting through it is like eating a bowl of noodles with meat and vegetables but without key seasonings to make it splendiferous.