Despite being unintentionally hilarious, Gotti is a travesty of filmmaking and an utterly embarrassing tribute to NYC mob boss John Gotti.
Gotti, the new biopic starring John Travolta and directed by Kevin Connolly, is perhaps the finest comedy of the year. Unintentionally, of course. In many ways it’s a tragedy; a commercial and critical bomb of nuclear yield. But in many other ways it’s an instant classic, a masterclass of utter ineptitude, boneheaded decision-making, and Bronx accents dialled up to weaponised thickness.
You had to see it coming. Gotti took eight years to make, and in that time was attached to four different directors, many more producers, and several supporting actors who all abandoned the project, at various times and for various reasons. At least one investor was arrested for fraud, and at some point MoviePass acquired a financial stake in the movie’s production. The finished product feels like something several people ought to be put on trial for, and even the “Teflon Don” couldn’t wriggle free from the hangman’s noose otherwise known as a perfect 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
What’s hysterical is that Gotti has an audience score of 56% on that very same website, and unwittingly became part of the on-going and largely imaginary war between critics and audiences (helped along by the movie’s own marketing department insisting that critics had “ordered a hit” on the film.) I find it unlikely that half of the people who saw Gotti enjoyed or admired it, which leads me to suspect that the voters in that poll might have woken up to discover a horse head where their wives should be. Only joking, obviously – anyone who likes Gotti cannot possibly have a wife.
The core demographic could, I suppose, be fans of the Miami “rapper” Pitbull, who for some reason scored the whole movie. His song “Amore”, with Leona Lewis, both opens and closes Gotti, and a variety of other absurd song choices deployed by Connolly (who, I should remind everyone, played E in Entourage) help to give scenes like a car bombing and a funeral procession some comedic value. I can’t imagine what anyone else would get out of Gotti, unless for some reason they had a burning desire to have John Gotti’s reputation as a stand-up guy not be besmirched by further accusations of criminality. The whole movie has that vibe, based as it is on the 2015 self-published memoir, Shadow of My Father, written by Gotti’s son, John A. Gotti, played here by Spencer Rocco Lofranco. Gotti Junior, who took over the Gambino crime family in 1992, seems to believe neither he nor his father did anything wrong. Although I suppose whatever they did, being immortalised in this movie is a just punishment for it.
You’re supposed to care about John A.’s fate, I think. In one of the early scenes he sits opposite his father, buried under intense makeup, and contemplates taking a plea deal, but Travolta isn’t having any of it: “If I robbed a church and had the steeple sticking out of my ass, I’d still say I didn’t do it!” That is a sentiment that can only be expressed by a beloved folk hero of the people like John Gotti, and most certainly isn’t the insanely convoluted logic of a career criminal.
The whole movie speaks that way. At one point John mourns the death of his 12-year-old son, Frankie, by lamenting, “He was 12 years old, he didn’t have a hair on his prick.” Later, he threatens someone by explaining that if they ever let him down again, he’ll “park a bus up their ass,” but crucially, “fuckin’ sideways”. But my favourite line came from Gotti’s wife, Victoria, played by Travolta’s wife, Kelly Preston, who, on emerging from court after another successful avoidance of justice, is asked by the press if she knows what her husband does for a living. “He provides”, she croaks. If that isn’t the most perfect mob-wife line ever uttered, then do tell me what is.
Beyond all this, though, there’s little about Gotti that I can recommend. The courtroom scenes play like melodramatic parodies, and the rest of it is just bewildering mob-movie clichés deployed thoughtlessly and seemingly at random. Gotti becomes a “made man” early and then starts barrelling forwards and backwards through time, showing up in hideouts and at parties and on mob hits and at funerals, sometimes mourning and helping old ladies with their shopping, other times shooting people in the head or reading the NYC mobster manual aloud to whoever will listen. It’s bizarre and, frankly, idiotic. But it’s hilarious, and that has to count for something, even if it isn’t very much.