Neely Swanson

“Mob Town” – Bom(b) Town [MOVIE REVIEW]

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David Arquette and P.J. Byrne in “Mob Town.” Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

by Neely Swanson

So much can be said about “Mob Town” and none of it is good. Directed badly by Danny A. Abeckaser, an actor of little renown, written poorly by Jon Carlo, Abeckaser’s collaborator (there can be no better use of that word) on their ill-received feature “First We Take Brooklyn,” and Joe Gilford, whose only notable previous credit was on a documentary entitled “Beyond Wiseguys: Italian Americans & the Movies.”  The writing rarely rises above that of a 1950s  “B” movie with dialogue that reaches a high point when one after another of the characters nods knowingly and says, “He’s up to no good.” This is one of those occasions where it’s difficult to pinpoint blame because it seems to be spread pretty evenly across all platforms, and that would include the acting.

Briefly, Sgt. Ed Croswell (David Arquette), relegated to the hinterlands of the upstate State Police Department in Apalachin, New York, becomes aware of mob activity in his small town and is convinced that “something bad” ( the quintessential, oft repeated, “up to no good”) is happening. Convincing his boss will be harder.

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Mob activity in the Big Apple is on the upswing with the reappearance of Vito Genovese (Robert Davi), determined to get back what Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia had taken from him while he was in prison. Effectively dispatching his two rivals, Genovese calls a “get together” of all the capos in the United States. A barbecue is planned at the estate of Joe Barbara (Danny Abeckaser). Getting wind of something big, Croswell is finally able to convince his boss and rally backup to create a roadblock and arrest the mobsters, a big event that made the headlines. Soon after, the headlines also revealed that all those arrested were released. Apparently Croswell and his cohort were unaware of something called probable cause. Nevertheless, this particular incident has been credited by some with finally putting the mob in J. Edgar Hoover’s sights.

Certainly there were initial trouble signs even before viewing. The cast was headlined by David Arquette, best known as the lesser Arquette, after Patricia and Rosanna, and ex-husband of Courtney Cox. Certainly bad direction contributed to his un-nuanced performance, but his one-dimensional portrayal contributes to some of the laugh-out-loud moments in the film. Would that there had not been so many. Lucky for him they were spread throughout most of the cast. Spoiler alert, watch for his several moments of stealth spying, tiptoeing up a hill, and copying down license plate numbers right in front of a window in view of the suspicious mob wife. It actually was a highlight for me and I’m chuckling even as I remember it.

Two actresses of note were not done any favors. Luckily for Jennifer Esposito, her role is benign, and she escapes relatively unscathed. Her role as the object of Arquette’s ardor is inconsequential to the plot and is there to round out his character’s lack of dimension.

Jamie-Lynn Sigler in “Mob Town.” Photo courtesy of Saban Films

Jamie-Lynn Siglar fares less well. As a mob wife, she leaves no stereotype or cliché unturned. Now clearly, most of this is not her fault. When she is first introduced, we see her surreptitiously (I assume that’s what was meant) overhearing her husband’s phone call from his big boss. There are times in some films, and with any luck there are very few of them, when you can actually read the stage directions on an actor’s face. For Jamie-Lynn, this was that scene. Her eyes and body language vividly communicate in the most unsubtle of ways: “I’m scared. I’m thrilled. I’m going to move up the ladder.”

Remarkably, Abeckaser, as Siglar’s husband, Joe Barbara, is quite entertaining. Certainly he hews to the stereotypic mobster, but there is humor in the performance and one quite enjoys his over-the-top “good fella” ways as he keeps plying the wholesale meat distributer with more and more cash to entice him to sell. As an actor, he is relatively generous and doesn’t deliberately steal his scenes. Unfortunately, as a director unable to guide the other players, he leads them down paths that he himself doesn’t follow.

Robert Davi in “Mob Town.” Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

There is one bright note, albeit too short, and that is Robert Davi, who has been effectively playing bad guys throughout his career. He knows this kind of character inside out and doesn’t succumb to base stereotype. As the character who propels all the action, even when not on screen (and his screen appearances are all too short), you understand the stakes, the anger, the revenge. His killer instinct is the closest the film comes to illustrating the undercurrent of danger.

A trivial note, but again a laugh-out-loud moment for me was the phone call of thanks that Sgt. Croswell received from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower had a very distinctive voice and was 67 years old at the time. The director chose to use the generic voice-over of someone who was quite young (at best 30-40). Of course there are very few people who will watch this movie (very few indeed) and remember Eisenhower’s voice, but surely they could have approximated the age.

The production values never rise to a level of interest or consistency. The chyrons at the end divulging the final outcomes of both the arrests and the futures of some of the main players are confusing.

Suggestion to all, instead of “Mob Town,” watch Scorsese’s “The Irishman” on the big screen (or Netflix). The Apalachin incident is better explained and the story and performances rise to the top. As it turns out, Abeckaser actually has a bit role “The Irishman.”

Opening Friday December 13 at the Laemmle Monica and on VOD.

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