Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Before I Die #541: Prizzi's Honor (1985)

This is the 541st I've now watched of the 1,162 movies on the "Before You Die" list that I'm gradually working my way through...

It's past the statute of limitations, but I still
feel like suing this poster for false
Director: John Huston

Totally disappointing.

When I see the words: "mafia," "Jack Nicholson," and "John Huston," I start to think good things. Such thinking resulted in the sad shock I felt in watching this movie.

The basic story is thus: Charley Partanna is a man quite literally born into the mafia. His father and god-father swear, immediately after his birth, to raise him within the Prizzi "family." Charley doesn't disappoint, growing to become one of the most feared mafia enforcer/assassins in the country. A very serious problem arises, however, when Charley falls in love with Irene Walker, a fellow assassin who robs the Prizzis. Things are further complicated when Charley's ex-wife, Maerose Prizzi, gets involved in the entire mess.

The story seems, on paper, to make for a solid mafia movie. When you add in a brilliant cast including Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, Anjelica Huston, and many other great character actors, then you would expect movie gold. What I saw was a borderline-mess of a film that fell completely flat.

Firstly, Jack Nicholson's New York accent is horrendous. This is very odd to me, as he was born and raised in New Jersey. Despite this, his faux New York street guy affect is even worse than the shakey Boston accent he put on in The Departed. This wouldn't be such a nuisance if Nicholson weren't in nearly every scene. He is, though, so it's a nuisance. A larger, less superficial problem to me is that the tone is never consistent. At times it wants to be a dark comedy; at others a touching dramedy; and at others a suspenseful crime tale. It's a very difficult trick to pull off, and John Huston (an indisputably great director) failed on every count. Neither the characters nor their motivations ever fully gel, leaving a bizarre, rambling story in which I cared about no one and nothing.

I couldn't shake the feeling that this movie is one that could have been done by filmmakers like the Coen Brothers, whose quirky sense of genre and tone blending might have resulted in a brilliant cult classic. As it is, though, I'm left to wonder just why so many film critics have hailed Prizzi's Honor as an "all-time great gangster movie." I just don't see it.

That's 541 movies seen. Only 621 to go before I can die...