CREW, THE(director: Michael Dinner; screenwriter: Barry Fanaro; cinematographer: Juan Ruiz-Anchia; editor: Nicholas C. Smith; cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Bobby Bartellemeo), Burt Reynolds (Bats Pistella), Dan Hedaya (the Brick Donatelli), Seymour Cassel (Mouth Donato), Carrie-Anne Moss (Detective Olivia Neal), Jennifer Tilly (Ferris Lowenstein), Lainie Kazan (Pepper Lowenstein), Miguel Sandoval (Raul Ventana), Carlos Gómez (Miguel), Jeremy Piven (Detective Steve Menteer); Runtime: 88; Touchstone Pictures; 2000)
“The Crew tried hard to be funny and genial, but this idea for a mob parody has been done too often in recent times to appear fresh.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Michael Dinner’s geezer mobster comedy has a funny premise, but falters on the execution part. The yuks come, but not often enough to sustain the film’s predictability and staleness. The Crew tried hard to be funny and genial, but this idea for a mob parody has been done too often in recent times to appear fresh. Whatever went wrong, must be blamed on the poor direction and script. But the most unbearable part of the film was having to listen to Richard Dreyfuss’ voiceover which was sprinkled with ethnic slang expressions such as “mooks,” “fahzools,” and “fuhgeddaboudits,” as he droned on in a nasal voice throughout telling about the four wiseguys who grew up together in New Jersey and who are now retired in Miami Beach. This film needed such an intensive voiceover like I need to have sand kicked in my face at the beach.
The four senior citizens featured were former arsonists and enforcers for the mob. They were all lower-echelon mob types who are now living in a South Beach hotel for the elderly, where they hunt for bingo games, free cups of soup, and act geriatric like all the other seniors in their golden years down here do. But things are changing in the area since Madonna mentioned it as a hip spot and the yuppies are coming around to gentrify it, as the old timers are dying out and being replaced by the young. The four aging retired mobsters with three of them having colorful nicknames that depict their emotional temperaments — Bobby Bartellemeo (Richard Dreyfuss), Joey “Bats” Pistella (Burt Reynolds), Mike “The Brick” Donatelli (Dan Hedaya) and Tony “Mouth” Donato (Seymour Cassel) — all try to earn some extra money by working at a regular job for the first time in their life. The only one to get any satisfaction from his job is The Brick, who works in the morgue dressing the dead up before they depart the earth.
The wiseguys don’t have the money to keep up with their rising rent payments and they are seething, as they sit on the hotel’s streetside porch and listen to the passers-by say that they expect them to soon die hoping that their valuable apartment will then be vacant. The hotel management just wants to get them out so that they can raise the rent sky high for their ocean view apartment. So they come up with a cockeyed plan, cooked up by the volatile Bats. His brilliant ideas only come when he gets knocked unconscious, which becomes a running gag. The plan is to get a body from the morgue and then shoot the dead body to make it look like a gangland execution and then dump it in the lobby of their hotel. This way the public will consider the hotel a dangerous place to live and their rent will go down, as no one will want to live there.
The plan works and they get the desired outcome but for one problem, the dead man’s head they blew off was the senile nursing home resident who is the father of a vicious Hispanic drug lord (Miguel Sandoval). The drug lord is now determined to get his revenge on those who did this to his father. This results in a couple of the drug lord’s enemies turning up dead. As the police think they have a full-scale drug war on their hands, they send two detectives to talk to the four old-timers and warn them to be careful.
This turns out to be a coincidence since Bobby, the brains of the four wiseguys, moved to the Miami area primarily because he wants to locate his missing daughter. She was taken there by her mother, who divorced him when he did some prison time and he never was able to locate her again. Ironically the wiseguy’s daughter turns out to be one of the detectives investigating the crime, Olivia Neal (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Another running gag is that The Mouth never talks much, he is only interested in chasing girls. But when he has sex with his hooker friend, the busty Ferris Lowenstein (Jennifer Tilly), he starts talking nonstop. The Mouth thereby tells Ferris of the hit, and she then turns around and blackmails the boys. Ferris tells them that she won’t tell the drug lord what happened if they whack her rich step-mother Pepper Lowenstein (Kazan), whereby she will collect the insurance money.
The film keeps adding on sub-plots and the comedy keeps getting stifled with the added weight of the new sub-plots. It isn’t enough to make the four of them out to be mobsters, but they also must now be deemed as good guys, so the film goes to unneeded lengths to show how wonderful they are. They can’t kill Pepper, so they fake her death. But she lives next to the drug lord, and they burn down by mistake his house along with hers. Meanwhile the detective partners Olivia and her ex-boyfriend, the shifty-eyed Steve (Jeremy Piven), can’t get back together anymore because she doesn’t trust him. But, they still work together. Their relationship gets woven into the ongoing story, further filling the story with unnecessary fodder.
The director had a barrage of proven comic material to work with, an able cast (except for Burt Reynolds-he was terribly miscast), yet the film falls flat on its face. Everything about it seemed like a mistaken pratfall. The comic timing was off, the story sagged, and the characters had nothing up their sleeves but old jokes and comedy routines that weren’t funny as much as they seemed out of place. Laine Kazan could flatten a kreplach with this old joke about Tilley’s father, as she blurts out “It would kill her father if he knew what she was doing to me, that is, if he weren’t already dead.” With yuks like that, all I can say is “oy gevalt,” give me a break, get some fresh material already!
For those who are film buffs, there is one throwaway scene to kvell on where the director pays homage to Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. The wiseguys get ripped off by an Hispanic kitchen worker, as he gets bribe money from them for letting them sneak through his deli’s kitchen so the boys can get served the early-bird special; but, they still get kicked out of the kitchen. It might have been the funniest scene of the film, just to see their silly expressions. I also left the theater by way of the rear door, and I also had a look of consternation wondering how easy it would have been to make this a much better film with just a little better effort in working the script.
REVIEWED ON 9/18/2000 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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