Laura Clifford Robin Clifford
Bobby (Richard Dreyfuss), Bats (Burt Reynolds), The Brick (Dan Hedaya) and Mouth (Seymour Cassel) are four retired wise guys from New York who retired a while back to the sunny comfort of Miami Beach. But, inflation and rising real estate values have put their golden years in jeopardy when they find out their hotel, the Raj Mahal, is being "renewed" and they are about to be put out on the street. They hatch a plot involving a corpse and a faked mob hit to save their homestead, but things do not go as planned in "The Crew."
Now that we've had our of fill of mob shrink comedies, it's time to move on to the senior set in "The Crew." Narrator Bobby Bartellemeo (Richard Dreyfuss, Casey Siemaszko in flashbacks) fills us in on his and his mob buddies' pasts and present. Joey "Bats" Pistella (Burt Reynolds) is the muscle of the group with a hair trigger temper that's just cost him his job at Burger King. Mike "The Brick" Donatelli (Dan Hedaya) is the sweet but dim one who loves his new profession as a corpse cosmetician. Tony "Mouth" Donato (Seymour Cassel) is the ladies man who doesn't say much, but still wows them on the dance floor where he makes his living as an instructor.
Bobby himself was the brains and leader of the group and is responsible for leading them all to retirement in South Beach. Bobby lost his wife and small daughter Olivia over his mob ties and had heard that they had moved here. Now the foursome need to cook up a plan to save their homestead - the ramshackle Raj Mahal retirement hotel is in danger of being converted into pricey condos.
They fake a mob hit in the lobby with one of Brick's clients to drive away potential business and it works! The landlord even decreases their rent to get them to stay. But things quickly get messy. The corpse turns out to be the father of a notorious drug lord (Miguel Sandoval). Mouth blabs all to stripper Ferris (Jennifer Tilly) who blackmails them into putting a hit on her mother-in-law Pepper Lowenstein (Lainie Kazan). The detective on the case turns out to be Bobby's long lost daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss, "The Matrix"). Comedic capering ensues.
The screenplay by "Golden Girls" writer Barry Fanaro is just too loud, messy, overly ambitious and overly reliant on coincidence. This type of senior crime caper was handled far better over twenty years ago in "Going in Style." There's so much plot you begin to lose the sense of why certain things are happening. A subplot that has corrupt cop Steve (Jeremy Piven) trying to win back Olivia is totally superfluous (as if having Bobby's daughter turn out to be the law wasn't hackneyed enough).
The cast can't be faulted, however. The four leads are all endearing, particularly Hedaya's Brick who keeps in homey touch with mob guys all over the country via Christmas cards ('What are you - the yearbook editor?' barks Bobby after Brick updates them on former colleagues). Lainie Kazan is amusing as a hostage who turns happy when her abductors discover she's the owner of the deli they frequent.
The film tries to be a little different with a couple of slick editting moves (a morgue drawer is closed and segued to a file cabinet being opened) and a comedy bit right out of "Mouse Hunt," but the techniques are used a couple of times then dropped, making the film stylistically muddled.
"The Crew" is an OK piece of fluff to kill an hour and a half, but on the whole, the film lets down its talent.
Director Michael ("The Wonder Years") show his TV chops in the breezy little comedy about an over the hill gang of wise guys who refuse to let the system push them around. When their hotel is about to be yanked from beneath them, they realize that they need to do something pretty quick or else. Mike "The Brick" Donatelli, it so happens, works at a mortician's as a hobby, making up the deceased for display to friends and family. The four goombas decide to steal one of the bodies - an unclaimed one - put it in the lobby of their hotel and shoot it to make it look like a mob job. Great idea. One problem. The body turns out to be the missing elderly father of a prominent drug lord in Miami.
The pat set up for the twisty, turny tale that ensues has the look and feel of an hour long TV sit com. Problems are presented to the four former Mafioso musketeers and they use the knowledge gained during their shady pasts to over come each one. In true situation comedy style, new troubles balloon out from the old and the guys have to dig deeper into their pasts to overcome each new obstacle. It comes as no surprise when the fab four wins in the end. There is some good fun in watching them get there, though.
The large cast works in true ensemble fashion, with no one stealing the show and all getting a chance to showcase their stuff. Richard Dreyfuss as Bobby "I never got a nickname" Bartellemeo, also doing double duty as the narrator, is the hinge pin of the film, playing the smarter of the quartet and, if you can call it that, the voice of reason for the four. Burt Reynolds gets to reprise his tough guy persona as Joey "Bats" Pistella. The "Bats" nickname suits him for two reasons - it was (and is) his favorite tool of his former trade and he is a little loopy (bats in the belfry). He's the muscle for the crew.
Dan Hedaya is sweetly goofy and a little simple as the Brick. He may not be the brightest bulb in the circuit, but he is a good and loyal friend to the others. Seymour Cassel rounds out the little gang of elderly mobsters as Tony "Mouth" Donato. Years ago, Mouth decided that he had nothing to say and has remained silent since - until his libido gets the better of him and he beds stripper/hooker Ferris Lowenstein (Jennifer Tilly, "Bound"). Mouth, it turns out, does like talk after sex and he spills the beans to Ferris about their clever plot to keep their home. The sexy stripper uses the info to blackmail the crew to whack her mother-in-law Pepper Lowenstein (Lainie Kazan). This new challenge to the fearless four is met in amusing ways, resulting in further trouble for drug lord Raul Ventana (Miguel Sandoval) when they accidentally burn his palatial house down.
There are subplots, mostly unnecessary, that involve Bobby searching for his long lost daughter after years of separation and a broken romance between two cops investigating the guys' capers. The tagged on feel of Bobby's search and the romance between Det. Olivia Neal (Carrie-Anne Moss ("The Matrix") and her partner Steve Menteer (Jeremy Piven, "Very Bad Things") detracts from the main plot, only clouding the picture with too much going on. The screenplay, by Barry Fanaro ("Kingpin"), tries to pack way too much into the under 90 minute flick, diluting the premier portion of the yarn.
The steady downward spiral of one event upon another threatening the four are all met with humor and energy that belies their aged status. (Not once did one of them need a nap or complain about his prostate.) There is a lot of pro-senior citizen philosophy contained in the story that empowers the aged. The "you can do it" attitude for seniors is a message that came up in the recent "Space Cowboys" and is readily prevalent in "The Crew." All in all, not a bad thing.
The tech credits - photography by Juan Ruiz-Anchia ("Mr. Jones), costume by Betsy Cox ("The Muse"), production design, by Peter Larkin ("Get Shorty"), direction by Dinner and the work of rest of the production crew - help give the Miami and Miami Beach locales an energy that complements the bright colors, beautiful people and dazzling sunshine of the area.
"The Crew" is like good popcorn. You're satisfied while your stuffing your face, but, later, you're still hungry. This aging "Goodfellas" satisfies while you're there, but it doesn't stick with you like a real meal. I give it a C+.