'Mob Town': Film Review

MOBTOWN_Publicity still 1 - H 2019
Saban Films

David Arquette, Jennifer Esposito, Jamie-Lynne Sigler and Robert Davi star in Danny A. Abeckaser's crime drama about the real-life state trooper who uncovered the 1957 Mafia leader summit in upstate New York.

The notorious 1957 summit meeting of Mafia bosses in the town of Apalachin in upstate New York would seem perfect fodder for a decent mob movie. Not so much, however, in the hands of Danny A. Abeckaser (First We Take Brooklyn), who, despite having plenty of experience acting in the genre (he can currently be seen getting punched in the stomach by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's The Irishman), thoroughly botches the opportunity in his sophomore directorial effort. Starring David Arquette as Ed Croswell, the real-life New York state trooper who uncovered the meeting, Mob Town plays like a mediocre B-movie that inexplicably got lost for decades.

By the end of the film, you won't know very much about the events or the gangster characters involved. But you will have learned plenty about what they ate, since the screenplay, co-written by Jon Carlo and Joe Gilford, spends an inordinate amount of time on the meeting's catering. Yes, it was Croswell's suspicions about the inordinate amount of food that Joe "The Barber" Barbara (played by director Abeckaser), a local gangster, was purchasing in the days leading up to the meeting that partly fueled his investigation. That doesn't mean, however, that we should have to endure endless scenes of Barbara attempting to buy steaks and pork chops and arguing with a fish store owner about swordfish. Or Croswell becoming frustrated when the restaurant where he's having dinner informs him that they've run out of all forms of red meat. Or an endless profusion of scenes in which various gangsters sit around eating copious amounts of pasta. At times it's hard to tell whether we're watching a period gangster drama or a Mafia cooking show.

Another unrewarding subplot involves Croswell's burgeoning romantic relationship with widow and single mother Natalie (Jennifer Esposito), fueled by such moments as his agreeing to repair her car. The scenes between Arquette and Esposito are sweetly charming in a low-key way, but they seem to have wandered in from another movie entirely. Equally extraneous are the attempts at comic relief via Croswell's cop partner (P.J. Byrne, The Wolf of Wall Street), who makes Barney Fife look like Dirty Harry by comparison.

To compensate for the obviously low budget, the pic attempts to provide period atmosphere by intercutting stock footage of New York City in the 1950s every 10 minutes or so. Suffice it to say that by the time it's over, you'll know the title of every film that was playing in Times Square in 1957.

Arquette brings an enjoyable "aw-shucks" sincerity to his role as the dogged cop, but he never proves convincing. He is, at least, an unconventional casting choice, which is more than could be said for perennial bad guy Robert Davi, phoning it in as the meeting's organizer Vito Genovese, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, clearly brought in for her Sopranos association, as Barbara's loyal Italian wife.

Despite its serious subject matter, Mob Town assumes an oddly comic tone for much of its running time, coming across almost like a spoof at times. Unfortunately, nothing in it is particularly funny, and the deadly pacing makes the movie seem much longer than it is. Most problematically, after a seemingly endless build-up, the quick and suspenseless sequence depicting the police raid on the meeting proves anti-climactic.

Not as anti-climactic, however, as the final scene, set several months after the main action, in which Croswell, now clearly happily living with Natalie, receives a phone call from President Eisenhower complimenting him on his work, despite the fact that all of the criminals' convictions were subsequently overturned. Graphics during the end credits provide information about Croswell's long and successful career in law enforcement after the events depicted. Fortunately for him, he didn't have this movie to live down.

Production company: 2B Films
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: David Arquette, Jennifer Esposito, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Davi, P.J. Byrne, Gino Cafarelli, Danny A. Abeckaser
Director: Danny A. Abeckaser
Screenwriters: Jon Carlo, Joe Gilford
Producers: Danny A. Abeckaser, Robert Ivker, Vince P. Maggio
Executive producer: Jonathan Saba
Director of photography: Hernan Toro
Production designer: Eric Liebrecht
Editor: David Leonard
Composer: Lionel Cohen
Costume designer: Karen Young
Casting: Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent

90 minutes