Some catalog titles just can't get a break. Take 'Jane Austen's Mafia!' and 'The Crew,' for instance. Most people couldn't recognize one or both of these pictures, and the few that can probably wouldn't bother to own them. But rather than letting them both languish in home video limbo, Mill Creek has seen fit to release both of them on one disc at a discount price.
'Mafia!' is, to date, Jim Abraham's last foray behind the camera. Abrahams, far better known as the director behind such comedy classics as 'Airplane!' and 'Hot Shots', this time tackles mob films such as Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Godfather' and Martin Scorsese's 'Casino'. Jay Mohr plays Anthony Cortino, a Michael Corleone-style character. His father, Vincenzo Cortino (Lloyd Bridges in one of his final roles), is the head of a prestigious New York crime family. Although Anthony would prefer to live with his girlfriend, Diane (Christina Applegate), and fight for world peace, the family's business keeps pulling him in.
'Mafia!' mines much of the same territory as Abraham's previous parodies, employing an "everything and the kitchen sink" comedic technique. Virtually every frame of the film is packed with gags, from the subtle to the outrageous, and if any particular joke doesn't work, that's okay, because there are a million more where they came from. Even if you don't like a majority of the gags, there's still enough funny material here to make the movie worth a watch. Of course, this scattershot approach does have its drawbacks. The movie meanders and suffers from outdated cultural references, such as Vincenzo doing the Macarena. However, other sequences, such as a volley of vomit in response to Anthony's burnt and scarred body after a bombing attempt, contain classic Abrahams' gags that can't help but tickle your funny bone. And, unlike the recent spate of so-called parodies, 'Mafia' at least attempts to have a story.
Jay Mohr does a serviceable job as Anthony, although he doesn't commit quite as hard as Charlie Sheen in 'Hot Shots', and he certainly can't match the comedic talents of Leslie Nielsen, who is sadly absent from this film. Lloyd Bridges is a welcome sight; his many years of comedy experience allowing him to play the silliest of scenes with deadpan seriousness. Christina Applegate, fresh off of 'Married With Children', shows off many of the traits she would bring to bear years later in 'Anchorman'. The rest of the cast is serviceable, but not exceptional, much like 'Mafia!' itself.
'The Crew' was a film that managed to slip under my radar, despite an impressive cast. Richard Dreyfuss, Dan Hedaya, Seymour Cassel, and Burt Reynolds star as retired mafia wise guys who have outlived their usefulness. Holed up in a decaying Miami hotel, the foursome are being pressured to move out or die so the owners can renovate and charge premium rates to tourists. In order to drive out their young competition, the foursome leave a cadaver in the lobby, set up to look like a mob hit. Problem is, the cadaver they chose was actually the father of a wealthy and vindictive drug lord, and when Cassel's character blabs to a prostitute played by Jennifer Tilly, the group find themselves in over their heads.
'The Crew' is not a parody. Instead, it's a light comedy that feels less like a movie and more like an excuse for the cast and crew to take a paid vacation in Miami. There's virtually no funny dialogue, meaning that all of the humor is situational. And while the situation is mildly chuckle worthy, the writer and the director don't know how to maximize its potential. The only funny bits come from a subplot, with Carrie Anne-Moss playing Dreyfuss' estranged daughter, and Jeremy Piven as her spurned lover.
This pair of films isn't terribly strong, either individually or together, but the two for the price of one tactic might attract a few people who want to watch one film or the other, but wouldn't have bought it otherwise.
'Mafia!' and 'The Crew' are both presented in AVC-encoded, 1080p, 1.78:1 transfers, opened up from their original aspect ratios of 1.85:1. To put it bluntly, these transfers are awful. 'Mafia!' looks faded, with muted colors and contrast turned up too high. There seems to be a slight sheen of edge enhancement and a persistent layer of noise. The print itself has dirt on it from time to time, although it's not consistent.
'The Crew' doesn't look quite as bad, although it's still not a home run. Color reproduction is stronger, but still looks muted. Shadow detail is poor, and there's still a layer of noise. Fine detail is better than in 'Mafia!', as is contrast and I didn't notice much in the way of edge enhancement. The print itself also has dirt on it, and more frequently than in 'Mafia!' This is a slightly better transfer, but still at the low end of high-def.
Both films are offered in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, and neither sound great. Dynamic range is weak. The dialogue in 'Mafia!' is muffled, an issue I didn't notice in 'The Crew'. The soundstage on both films is limited, sounding cramped. Directionality is virtually non-existent. Balance is fine, with dialogue getting priority in the center channel, and the rest coming through the front surrounds, but there's nothing about either mix that's going to surprise you. Again, 'The Crew' edges out 'Mafia!', but neither sound particularly good.
Other than a window-boxed, standard definition, beat to hell trailer for each film, there are no supplements for either movie.
Packaging two lesser films together on one disc at discount price isn't a bad idea, but of the pair, only 'Jane Austen's Mafia!' is worth watching. Even if you're a diehard fan of 'Mafia!' or 'The Crew', the transfers and audio for both scrape the bottom of the high-def barrel. And with no extras save for terrible theatrical trailers, this one is a miss through and through. Skip it.