The mobster comedy is by now such familiar terrain that it ought to have its own nickname (mobcom, obviously), and that familiarity does not make breathing new life into the subgenre easier. Alas, there isn’t much fresh air to be had in “Clover,” a polished but pedestrian romp in which two knucklehead siblings in hock to the local crime boss find themselves fleeing his “debt collectors” for their lives.
Despite a capable cast and reasonably energetic execution from director Jon Abrahams, this violent caper lacks any real wit or novelty (beyond congratulating itself a bit too much for including a lesbian couple as “hitmen”), ultimately leaning on tired stereotypes rather than doing anything particularly clever with them. Launching on various cable and digital platforms April 3, it’s a just-passable entertainment that may seem better to those who think “Boondock Saints” is an enduring classic.
You can certainly sense that lowbrow cult favorite’s influence in the dynamic between the brothers Callahan, two orphaned “micks” in an unnamed East Coast city running their family’s corner bar. Or at least they were, until haplessly impulsive Jackie (Mark Webber) piles up gambling debts, exasperating older sibling Mickey (Abrahams) yet again. Now the bar is shuttered, and they’re in debt to loanshark Tony (Chazz Palminteri) with no way to pay him back.
They’re given a potential out if they make “a simple housecall” to another tardy debtor in the company of Tony’s all-too-aptly-named son Crazy Joey (Michael Godere). Naturally, this task doesn’t turn out to be simple at all. Amid the ensuing mayhem, not only does the intended mark die, but his daughter Clover (Nicole Elizabeth Berger) witnesses that murder — and kills killer Joey.
Now saddled with a whiny (but oh so precocious) teenage girl, the brothers must elude enraged Tony’s entire goon army, as well as a couple outside hired hands in the form of the aforementioned female duo (Erika Christensen, Julia Jones). They find brief shelter with a series of old friends who aren’t particularly happy to see them, particularly under these circumstances. Those reluctant allies include fellow bar owner Pat (Tichina Arnold), Jackie’s ex-girlfriend Angie (Jessica Szohr), and a “nutty professor” relative (Jake Weber) with a talent for lethal chemical concoctions. Lurking in the background is Ron Perlman as a rival crime boss who’s really only seen in a hammy opening sequence, monologuing about life’s brutal “pecking order” at his enormous, ugly mansion.
“Clover” looks good, with well-chosen locations as well as able contributions from production designer Giles Masters and DP Matthew Quinn. It also moves at a brisk clip. But the screenplay by Michael Testone (who likewise wrote actor Abrahams’ 2016 directorial debut “All At Once”) is busy without providing much in the way of distinguishing content — it’s just the usual woise goise and goils yelling expletive-riddled tough-guy abuse at each other that the movie mistakes for hilarious banter.
Periodically there’s a pat “heartwarming” moment usually centered on the improbably 13-year-old Clover, whom everyone feels protective toward even though she is (even more improbably) the most resourceful and level-headed figure here. She’s also key to a ludicrous late major plot twist “explained” by flashbacks, which is followed by a couple smaller twists that don’t even try to make sense.
All this might fly better if the film had a more out-there absurdist spirit, stronger suspense, or demonstrated greater flair in its frequent violent action. But the emphasis here is on character comedy, and these characters just aren’t very original, or funny. They tend to annoy each other, and may well have that effect on the viewer, too.
There’s a vaguely retro feel to the original score (accompanied by various oldies on the soundtrack), in addition to fleeting use of split-screen effects. But in these as in most other departments, “Clover” seems to be retracing the steps of prior mob-themed comedies without finding a particularly distinctive personality of its own.