Director: Kevin Connolly
Screenwriters: Lem Dobbs, Leo Rossi
Starring: John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Spencer Lofranco
I watched a movie called Little Italy this week. Hayden Christensen and Emma Roberts play the children of rival pizza shop owners, and we watch their competitive friendship blossom into a romance only a cheesy romantic comedy can conceive. Meanwhile, in Gotti, John Travolta is the titular wise guy. Anyway, Hayden Christensen and Emma Roberts have the chemistry of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman.
Reading that paragraph is what it’s like watching Gotti.
Nothing in this ill-fated Kevin Connolly movie quite makes sense. It’s constantly jumping timelines and storylines like the editor found a shuffle button in Adobe Premiere. Imagine if Godfather II included Godfather III and cut all but two minutes of de Niro so we were mostly just watching Michael work out the logistics of moving to Las Vegas, being old and finding a successor. There’s a couple of exciting parts here or there: an explosion, maybe a shooting, courtroom scenes (and who doesn’t love mob court scenes?), and even Italian accents. Really… what more could you want?
I think the worst issue with Gotti is that it leaves you with a lot of questions about John Gotti. I know he killed a guy and had a couple of other people killed, but that doesn’t seem like the worst thing a mafioso has ever done. Otherwise he’s in prison or sitting in rooms talking about generic mafia stuff with fat Italian guys. Though he is a family man, which I’m sure isn’t propaganda or whitewashing at all…
People seemed to love him because he kept the neighborhood safe while also being a degenerate criminal. I thought Gotti was supposed to be this flamboyant untouchable badass, but nothing from this film leaves that impression except the narration.
What’s the plot of Gotti? No, really, I’m asking you. I couldn’t tell you what the plot is other than saying it’s the life of John Gotti. There’s also this father-son thing going on with John A. Gotti, but not really because John Jr. doesn’t conduct much (if any) gang activity. He’s on trial, but he seems to beat it in the end. Maybe that’s the plot? It’s not really, though, it’s just kind of happening.
There are scenes from 2002 where Gotti and son are talking about his impending trial. He keeps saying he doesn’t want to go to prison so he’s taking a plea, and dad’s like, “no.” Characters come and go at random, though a couple are conveniently labelled in the worst imitation of the Goodfellas crew introduction scene.
Despite lifting scenes and ideas from what came before, it didn’t even manage to be mildly entertaining. That explosion I mentioned earlier was the saddest explosion ever seen on film, there’s no clear visual motif or interesting lighting, there isn’t a particular style or joie de vivre to any character or performance, and John Travolta is kinda dour and boring, while Spencer Lofranco’s low-key portrayal of Gotti Jr. is entirely unconvincing as a son of a mobster. I really couldn’t tell you a trait that he possessed other than being a made-man.
The best moment in the movie was either the hit Gotti carried out on his boss Paul Castellano, or this moment between Gotti and one of his sons as John Jr. is leaving to go to the army (which never matters, by the way). Gotti gives the boy money, saying, “Why don’t you get some ice cream or pizza or something?” The kid goes, “I don’t like ice cream.” Gotti replies that they should get fudge sticks, leading to the funniest line that they kept in the final edit, “I don’t like pizza either.” Are fudge sticks a kind of pizza I don’t know about? Did they train the kid to respond with two lines no matter what Travolta mumbled about? Was anyone watching dailies? And, most importantly, who doesn’t like ice cream and pizza? This may be unrelated, but the character gets run over later.
On top of all that, the music was “a choice”. “Smoke on the Water” plays during a shooting, there’s funk music, there are pop songs, and it all contributes to the complete lack of tension in the film. The highlight is the main theme, “Amore” by Pitbull. It begins with some Italian-sounding guitar and makes some sense, until it transitions to a hip-hop piece complete with clap, record scratches, and 808s. Here are some choice lines from the song:
“Fuck cops, pop pop, catch you at your favorite spot”
“Yeah I killed, yeah I extorted, yeah I robbed, but I’m the God of the mob”
“The rotten apple from the Big Apple, the realest gangster you’ve ever seen”
Now I don’t have a problem with prominently portraying mobsters in film (who doesn’t love Get Carter for Pete’s sake?), but the choice to make a rap to brag about how awful of a person John Gotti was is a bit different than making Goodfellas or Casino, and not just because those are good movies. No one ever wrote a rap about how cool Michael Corleone is.
If it hadn’t been made clear already, Gotti truly is the worst of what cinema has to offer. It’s as unoriginal as it is poorly executed. It’s as boring as it is strange. If Gotti wasn’t enough bad movie for you, producer Randall Emmett is currently in Puerto Rico (literally, as of writing) shooting Axis Sally. See you at the 2021 Razzies, Rand.