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Mafia DVD Review

Mafia (2013) DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Mafia

Video Premiere: February 5, 2013 / Running Time: 82 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Ryan Combs

Cast: Ving Rhames (Renzo Wes), Pam Grier (Detective James Womack), Robert Patrick (Detective Jules Dupree), Sean Derry (Train), Persia White (Mel), Sheila Shah (Mad), Gillie Da Kid (Double Double), Heather Rae Young (Kim Lara), Melanie Marden (Farrah), Eric Nathan (Kenny Armstrong), Jonathan Frazier (William), Barret Hackney (Red Ricky), Jack Erdie (T Bo), Tiffany Williams (Red Ricky's Girlfriend), Lisa Cook (Choir Member)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None / Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled or Captioned; Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

Buy Mafia on DVD from Amazon.com

It's a good thing that the Internet Movie Database lists Jim Abrahams' 1998 comedy as Jane Austen's Mafia! and not just Mafia. That should limit confusion for the handful of people aware of both that spoof and a new film called Mafia. IMDb identifies the latter as a product of 2011, though it's actually reaching the general public tomorrow, February 5, 2013, as an unsurprisingly direct-to-video release.

Written and directed by Ryan Combs, this Mafia stars Ving Rhames, the leading man of such obscure Combs films as Animal 2 (no relation to the Rob Schneider vehicle), Caged Animal (a.k.a. Wrath of Cain and no relation to Animal 2), and King of the Avenue. That creative history raises questions about how Rhames,
a staple of the Mission: Impossible franchise who acted for the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh in the '90s, now finds himself in regular collaboration with the maker of I Accidentally Domed Your Son. Looking over his very long filmography, Rhames hasn't been discerning for a while. His few recognizable recent credits include Piranha 3DD, Universal's straight-to-video Death Race sequels, and the inspirational teacher drama bomb Won't Back Down. Clearly, Combs is one of the few to see Rhames as movie star material.

There's not an Italian-American to justify the title; Combs clumsily uses the word "Mafia" to mean "organized crime." The film opens on New Year's Eve 1975, which explains the cast's ludicrous hairdos. Renzo Wes (Rhames), a crime boss on the "South Side" of an unspecified city (this was shot in Pittsburgh), sports a Mr. T-style mohawk. Detective Womack (Pam Grier), the more determined of two narcotics detectives assigned to bring down Renzo, is ridiculously afroed. Such bold looks are about the extent of period design, as the film takes a lax approach to authentic language and fashions.

Renoz Wes (Ving Rhames) pities the fool who doesn't go around with a mohawk, medallion necklace, and cigar.

Inaccuracy is less likely to bother than the film's atrocious dialogue and storytelling. Renzo and his "soldiers" are ruthless in ruling the streets. Where and how they make their money is unclear.
But anyone who does wrong by Renzo dies, usually at the hands of one of his unfortunately maned enforcers, given names like Train (Sean Derry) and Double Double (Gillie Da Kid), the latter for his preferred ambidextrous arsenal.

Vengeful over the loss of her old partner at the hands of Renzo's thugs, Womack acts sketchy and seems to hold disdain for due process, trusting her gut above prosecutable evidence. Her new partner, Jules Dupree (a bloated Robert Patrick), is more by the book. He's reluctant to take his work home to his biracial fiancιe Farrah (Melanie Marden), who in turn is reluctant to reveal her man's Caucasianness to her racist brother. Spoiler alert: it's a half-brother and you'll never guess who.

Actually, you might if you care, but that is a pretty huge and improbable "if." Mafia lingers on that coincidence for about a minute, before moving onto other matters, involving other interracial couples and cigar-smoking, fedora-wearing Renzo's tortured conscience, which sees him curiously donating to a church and seeing recurring visions of himself in some kind of haunted prison and a silently judging portly boy.

With a slow end credits scroll beginning 75½ minutes in, the film is barely feature-length. It's also barely of a distributable quality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the film's final scene, in which cops make their move for an arrest with nothing but a tape recording of Renzo spouting obscene biblical metaphors. Perhaps the lack of evidence that has plagued the department stems from the department not knowing what this "evidence" thing is.

Though his self-written IMDb biography details an upbringing full of hardship in the violent neighborhood of Compton, California, it seems likely that Combs has not personally ventured outside the law, which is good. The downside: that lack of criminal experience (and exposure to true crime reporting or even crime fiction) attached to an apparent lack of imagination yields something resembling an ambitious film student's project. How this man has managed to write and direct films for fourteen years yet have so little to show for it here is a mystery and one more compelling than anything presented in the film.


Mafia's visuals are as ugly as its characters' vocabularies. Though sharp and clean, the DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is dark, muted, and yellow-tinted. The default Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is fine, though it barely seems to extend to the rear channels. A Dolby Stereo mix is also offered as are closed captions, but no subtitles or dubs.

Mafia's trailer tells it like it is. Renzo (Ving Rhames) lights his cigar on the Mafia DVD main menu.


The DVD's only extra is a Mafia trailer (1:29), sure to be included alongside only the finest films.

The disc opens with menu-inaccessible trailers for 96 Minutes, Stand Off (so that's where Brendan Fraser has gone!), and the horror film 7 Below (which is not a prequel to Disney's Eight Below).

The menu plays stylized clips in a design based on the cover artwork, which is replicated in a cardboard slipcover above the insert-less Eco-Box keepcase.

Detective Womack (Pam Grier) and a dramatic afro go after the gangster who killed her partner. Detective Jules Dupree (Robert Patrick) is startled to recognize his wife's brother.


Between Gangster Squad and Mafia, Robert Patrick has managed to appear in the best and worst movies I've seen released in this young year. I expect the mediocre former to relinquish its title much sooner than the woeful Mafia loses its futile claim. This amateurish crime drama is an eye-opener as to how poor a film can be even with some accomplished lead actors in the fray. I can't imagine anyone liking this movie, not even the people who made it.

Buy Mafia on DVD from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Ving Rhames: Operation: Endgame • Piranha • Surrogates • Lilo & Stitch • Leroy & Stitch • Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Robert Patrick: Gangster Squad • Trouble with the Curve • The Faculty • Bridge to Terabithia • Balls of Fury • Ladder 49
Pam Grier: Jackie Brown • Something Wicked This Way Comes • Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
New: Seven Psychopaths • Flight • Above Suspicion: Set 2 • Robot & Frank • Here Comes the Boom • Stolen
Crime Films: Gun • Freelancers • Kill the Irishman • Brookyln's Finest • Zodiac • Scarface

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Reviewed February 4, 2013.

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