Opening with a zip, young Byron Thames gets this 1930s gangster sendup off solidly as the good-hearted, honest lad forced to take up crime to pay for the operations on his multi-ailing mum (Maureen Stapleton).
Stapleton is also well-cast in her cliched role, as are Peter Boyle as the good mobster Dundee and Joe Piscopo as the bad Vermin. Deliberately overworking the Cagney mannerisms, Michael Keaton is initially good, too, in the title role, as is Griffin Dunne as Johnny’s D.A. brother. Unfortunately, the material given all of them just gets worse and worse.
As a streetcorner pope extorting Keaton for cash, Dom DeLuise appears for only a few lines, none of them funny. It’s Ray Walston’s brief contribution that exemplifies the overall content of the film: as a blind news vendor, he gets hit in the head with a bundle of papers, restoring his sight. Then he gets hit again, turning him deaf. Hit a third time, he regains his hearing but loses his memory. Funny stuff.