Nastassja Kinski and Illeana Douglas in Bella Mafia (1997)

Mama Mafia

When lowly Sophia (Nastassja Kinski) learns that Michael Luciano (Michael Hayden) the man she has been carrying on with in secret and who is the father of her baby has died she tries to go to the Luciano home to get answers but is turned away by heavy security. But when Constantino Luciano (Richard Joseph Paul) almost runs her over she is allowed in and whilst keeping her son a secret ends up becoming part of the family, marrying Constantino and eventually having children of their own. Others in the family also marry whilst patriarch Don Roberto Luciano (Dennis Farina) and his wife Graziella Luciano (Vanessa Redgrave) are biding their time to get revenge on Pietro Carolla (Tony Lo Bianco) for the murder of Michael. When that starts to come to fruition a young man called Luca (James Marsden) who had befriended Carolla's sickly son takes matters into his own hands and murders all the men of the Luciano family leading to the Luciano women uniting to get revenge.

Right I am going to have to state a few things up front before I begin to express what I felt about "Bella Mafia". Firstly the version which I watched was the original two part TV mini series which runs to over 2 and a half hours and not the edited version which comes in at under two hours which is the usual one which people watch. Secondly I am a bloke and since a teenager have loved mafia movies especially "The Godfather" and as such have a natural tendency to compare all mafia movies to what to me is the greatest movie ever made. With that in mind my quick opinion of "Bella Mafia" is this is for women who don't get what is great about "The Godfather" with its storyline of the women of Luciano taking over and getting revenge following the murder of their men.

Dennis Farina and Vanessa Redgrave in Bella Mafia (1997)

Now to expand on that quick opinion let me say I liked the idea, the concept of the women, mothers and daughters of the Luciano family uniting and trying to get revenge the old fashioned way for the murder of their men is a good one. I also kind of like what is in fairness a convoluted storyline as the whole aspect of a connection between the Luciano family and the Carolla family via a friendship has some entertaining and disturbing possibilities. Basically I reckon Lynda La Plante's novel on which this is based could actually make for a decent mafia movie but this isn't it.

So what is wrong with "Bella Mafia" well to be honest it draws too heavily on "The Godfather" with two many scenes appearing to have been inspired by Mario Puzo's masterpiece. From the whole feud between families over Don Luciano refusing to allow drugs to be sold in Palermo to a scene of Michael playing guitar it is just too heavily and too obviously influenced especially when it comes to the soundtrack. But that is just half of the story as there is some absolutely terrible dialogue weaved through out the movie which to be honest is embarrassing especially when you consider the calibre of the cast. But there is also the mixed tone with some actors playing it straight whilst others have been thrown in seemingly for comic relief which is just wrong, plain wrong.

The most frustrating thing about this is the calibre of the cast and I feel sorry for what some of them had to deal with. Take Jennifer Tilly as Moyra, a character who is meant to be trashy but she is played in such an over the top trashy manner that it ends up comical and in being so comically wrong. Early on in the movie the wonderful Illeana Douglas also falls foul of a character whose tone is too mixed going from comical to serious in a blink of an eye. Thankfully both Vanessa Redgrave and Nastassja Kinski do give their characters the depth and emotion which is lacking elsewhere. There is also the little matter of James Marsden who stars as a blue eyed young man called Luca and frankly he didn't convince me at all be it when trying to act like a cold killer or when as an emotional young man or even when he turns ladies man.

What this all boils down to is that "Bella Mafia" had the potential to be something half decent but the end result left much to be desired. Maybe for those who didn't get "The Godfather" it will be good with its convoluted soap opera like plot, but for fans of "The Godfather" this is best avoided.