The game-for-anything Toni Collette inherits a mafia clan in Mafia Mamma, an uneven comedy where the jokes and the tone are as scattershot as some characters’ aim.
Collette (The Power) plays Kristin, a suburban mom and pitchwoman for pharmaceutical products whose sexist boss prefers marketing erectile dysfunction products than hair treatments for cancer patients. She’s dealing with other troubles at home, including a cheating husband, when the glamorous Bianca (Monica Bellucci, Dry), phones from Italy. Kristin’s grandfather has died, and as his only grandchild, she must settle his affairs.
Kristin jets off determined to turn the trip into her own version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular memoir Eat Pray Love, a book name-checked several times throughout the film. She’s soon distressed to learn that her grandfather’s dying wish was that she take over the family business—not his vineyard, which is a front, but the mafia stuff.
The script by Amanda Sthers (Promises), J. Michael Feldman (Kevin from Work), and Debbie Jhoon (Not Dead Yet) relishes Kristin’s fish-out-of-water status, but Mafia Mamma often isn’t sure what to do with her. Bianca, the family’s consigliere, explains that it’s better for the inexperienced Kristin to handle negotiations with a warring crime family instead of the hotheaded Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta, My Brilliant Friend), another blood relative. But Kristin seems in way over her head.
Instead, she proposes some legitimate business ventures with the mob money, which take off swiftly in the film’s fuzzy time frame. She also has a knack for defending herself against other mafia types trying to kill her, thanks to krav maga classes back home and her own dumb luck.
In the meantime, the “love” or at least lust part of her sojourn takes off after she meets Lorenzo (Giulio Corso, The Ignorant Angels), a handsome cabbie who makes his own pasta and has a secret or two.
Director Catherine Hardwicke (Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities) frames the shootouts and the action so that they’re easy to follow, and Mafia Mamma gives Collette plenty of fashionable slow-motion entrances. Yet the film vacillates between cartoonish violence one moment, with both mafia families spitting at the mention of the other’s name, and gore the next, complete with a loose eyeball on the carpet and a stiletto in someone’s genitals.
There’s also no clear goal for Kristin’s character. As one might expect from the trailers, she finds strength and purpose as a mafia head, but in the film, this feels more like happenstance rather than her actions.
Collette and Bellucci have some nice scenes together, bonding as the only women in the Italian network, but viewers might wish for more of Kristin’s personality beyond bringing muffins to a meeting with mafia heavies. The Italian scenery, clothes, and food look scrumptious, but as a clever comedy, Mafia Mamma doesn’t quite click.