Married to the Mob (Blu-ray Review)27 Oct, 2014 By: Mike Clark
Stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell, Alec Baldwin.
There’s something transcendent about the sight of mob boss passenger Dean Stockwell snapping his fingers to the Burger World jingle (complete with gumba subordinate in the adjacent driver’s seat) as the two of them head for the drive-by window for what’s about to be a drive-by shooting. It’s the kind of surprise throwaway ’80s moviegoers were likely to get only in Jonathan Demme comedies of the period, of which Mob is a prime cut (and definitely more of one than anything Burger World likely had to offer underneath its dripping cheese).
So, of course, the movie didn’t do especially good business at the time — part of that dreadful and surprisingly undiscussed secret about the failure of so many still underappreciated movies starring Michelle Pfeiffer (or, while we’re at it, Jessica Lange and Anjelica Huston and the young Meryl Streep) to make it at the box office at a time when all were doing so much of their best work. This was, of course, long before armies of women re-emerged from the Bette-Joan ’40s as one of the controlling forces in today’s theater attendance — and bravo, I say, given how so straight to hell “guy” movies have gone in the last couple decades. As a male co-worker once said to me years ago about the fantasy of remaking The Dirty Dozen with today’s crop of actors: “Get the $%#*&@ out of here (and he said it with an African-American version of a John Wayne delivery).
Of course, there’s plenty of guy stuff to be had as well in this Demme farce, including the early rub-out of an impossibly thin Alec Baldwin, who plays the Pfeiffer spouse and mob lieutenant (or maybe Pfc is closer) who toys with Stockwell’s waitress honey and pays the instant price. This isn’t giving too much of the plot away because the thrust of a very funny Barry Strugatz-Mark R. Burns script deals with the challenges of undercover FBI agent Matthew Modine to survive at his job while simultaneously romancing the heavily permed cutie (a now single-mom Pfeiffer) he’s supposed to be sleuthing. To me, this movie is of a piece with the director’s more-esteemed Something Wild (1986), thanks to its incessant wacky streak, creative casting, beat-heavy musical soundtrack and vibrant color schemes — and for the last, I had hoped to see Mob get the Criterion treatment its memorably Wild predecessor received. But of the color releases I’ve seen so far from the recently launched Kino Classics line, this looks the best — possibly because it’s an Orion title and not one of older United Artists vintage, which means it doesn’t have to deal with the standard severe limitations of UA’s DeLuxe Color from the late 1960s and 1970s.
Modine, then recently off Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, is on the high side of functional here — though one can easily respond that I’m underrating the performance because the actor’s relatively blank demeanor is not ineffective at tempering the loopiness that surrounds him (keep watching all the way through the end credits because there’s a delightfully ticklish kicker at the very end). Another standout example of the last is a pre-Fisher King (and thus, pre-Oscared) Mercedes Ruehl as the Stockwell spouse who’s so mistakenly jealous of Pfeiffer that she wrings, like a washcloth, the latter’s grocery-cart carton of eggs. But we also get all those nut jobs who constitute Stockwell’s so-called protection mechanism, the inherent fun of having Trey Wilson and Oliver Platt cast as Modine’s work colleagues and some memorably kitschy art direction. The last is, at times, almost in an ’80s class of its own if you remove “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” (just out on Blu-ray and a big Shout! Factory huzzah for this) from the equation.
As suggested earlier, Mob was part of a Pfeiffer run that has been dispiritingly underappreciated: Into the Night; The Witches of Eastwick; Tequila Sunrise; Dangerous Liaisons; The Fabulous Baker Boys; The Russia House; Frankie and Johnny; The Age of Innocence and Wolf. (I’m pretty sure that Dangerous Minds, her weakest movie of the period, is the only one of these that “opened” — which, of course, figures.) Demme was amid a generally more acclaimed streak spanning Handle With Care through Oscar magnet The Silence of the Lambs — with the Goldie Hawn-mangled Swing Shift his only real stumble in that period (Last Embrace, which I just saw again and still like, is also new on Blu-ray from Kino). After Lambs, next up was that sometimes thing Philadelphia — and then it was a castor-oil grueller (Beloved) that worked against Demme’s strengths. At this point, he began spending a lot of time on documentaries (some of them quite good) but also a pair of extremely ill-advised remake minefields that blew up in his face: The Truth About Charlie (which screwed around with Charade) and The Manchurian Candidate. Since then, he’s had one fairly robust return to form with Rachel Getting Married, but that was six years ago. There are just no two ways about it: I miss Dean Stockwell and those Bobby Darin finger-snaps.