The anarchic, splatterpaint-with-gags approach Jim Abrahams first visited on disaster flicks with "Airplane!" now wreaks havoc on Cosa Nostra epics in "Jane Austen's Mafia!"

The anarchic, splatterpaint-with-gags approach Jim Abrahams first visited on disaster flicks with “Airplane!” now wreaks havoc on Cosa Nostra epics in “Jane Austen’s Mafia!” Its particular target genre being not exactly at peak visibility right now, this agreeable, if typically hit-and-miss, spoof may not soar to the commercial heights of such prior romps as “Hot Shots!” or “Naked Gun.” But frequent hilarity should translate into palatable mid-range summertime B.O., with excellent ancillary biz to follow.

Hewing closer to specific plot parody than in some earlier efforts, Abrahams takes aim primarily at “The Godfather” trilogy and “Casino.” Latter’s framing device gets a hysterical replay during opening sequence, as nominal hero Anthony Cortino (Jay Mohr) goes into psychedelic car-bomb orbit a la De Niro.

This event triggers a series of flashbacks that alternately spoof the Coppola and Scorsese films. As in “The Godfather, Part II,” the future Don riles local Mafiosi in turn-of-the-century Sicily; the boy Vincenzo (Jason Fuchs) flees to America, where he eventually rises to become a powerful — if still haplessly klutzy — organized crime padrone (the late Lloyd Bridges, in his last role).

His sons are hot-tempered Joey (Billy Burke, playing an amalgam of James Caan and John Casale’s original characters) and college-educated military-service returnee Anthony. Tony introduces the family to upright WASP fiancee Diane (Christina Applegate, underutilized here — much like Diane Keaton in the first two “Godfather” pics) at a wedding that cannily sends up the long opening sequence of the first film in Coppola’s trilogy.

Said nuptials provide an opportunity for enemies to attempt, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Don Vincenzo. While he’s hospitalized, hitherto “family business”- resistant Tony avenges that near-murder. Afterward, he must flee for a time to Las Vegas — where “Casino” gets mockingly replayed via an involvement with bombshell showgirl Pepper (Pamela Gidley in the Sharon Stone role). A series of violent betrayals, traced to both scheming Pepper and jealous Joey, place now-hardened Tony at the top of the criminal hierarchy.

Joke machine fires ammo nonstop, sometimes landing wide of the barn door. But despite myriad lame or rote-vulgar bits, pic nonetheless scores belly laughs on a divertingly steady basis. Its major flaw is lack of cumulative build — the climax, intercutting between Tony’s wedding and simultaneous multiple vengeance-hits, is amusing enough but doesn’t capitalize on the bravura style or outre violence Coppola’s three epics each flaunted in their final sequences. (It does, however, manage to squeeze in gratuitous bashing of “Lord of the Dance,” “Jurassic Park” and purploid kid-TV staple Barney.)

Principal thesps don’t really get a chance to show their comic chops, since their job is mostly to maintain a deadpan front while absurd gags fly around (or at) them. Still, casting is solid down the line. Pic bears a closing dedication to Bridges, who gamely dives into wacky physical business, though he doesn’t make much effort to parody Brando (something perhaps too often already done).

Short running time reflects film’s tight pacing as well as its not-quite-fully-developed narrative satire. Technically, it’s ultraslick, with cinematographer Pierre Letarte nicely aping the dark-hued look of “Godfather” pics and the neon dazzle of “Casino.”

Full three-word title used onscreen has been de-emphasized (in favor of plain old “Mafia!”) in advertising and promo materials; in any case, it’s a pleasing non sequitur — but pic itself makes no reference to the English lit/Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant Ivory school of cinema.

Jane Austen's Mafia!

Production

A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Tapestry Films production. Produced by Bill Badalato. Executive producers, Peter Abrams, Robert L. Levy. Co-producers, Greg Norberg, Michael McManus. Directed by Jim Abrahams. Screenplay, Abrahams, Greg Norberg, Michael McManus.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Pierre Letarte; editor, Terry Stokes; music, Gianni Frizzelli; production designer, William Elliott; art director, Greg Papalia; set designers, Ann Harris, Colin de Rouin, Jason Weil; set decorator, Jerie Kelter; costume designer, Mary Malin; sound (Dolby digital), David Ronne; special effects, Dynamic F/X Intl.; visual effects supervisor, Sam Nicholson; visual effects producer, Susan Zwerman; associate producers, Jack Bernstein, Jennifer Gibgot; assistant director, Matthew Rowland; second unit director/stunt coordinator, Ernie Orsatti; second unit camera, Donald M. McCuaig; casting, Jackie Burch. Reviewed at the Regency II, San Francisco, July 20, 1998. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Anthony Cortino - Jay Mohr
Joey Cortino - Billy Burke
Diane - Christina Applegate
Pepper Gianni - Pamela Gidley
Sophia - Olympia Dukakis
Vincenzo Cortino - Lloyd Bridges
Young Vincenzo - Jason Fuchs
Clamato - Joe Viterelli
Marzoni - Tony Lo Bianco
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