Prizzi's Honor

A tepid Mafia romance drama that doesn't live up to its billing as a black comedy.

Released in 1985, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 24 Apr 2003 by Scott Morris
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The mafia still rule Chicago in Prizzi's Honor, obvious from the outset given the number of cops in the congregation for Don Corrado Prizzi's grand-daughter's wedding. Mob enforcer Charley Patanna (Nicholas) falls for a mysterious stranger at the wedding, but she is called away before he can even get her name. It's later revealed that she's off to carry out a 'whacking'. Charley tries to find out who the mystery hitwoman is from his ex-lover Maerose (Anjelica Huston), the Don's daughter who has been disowned from the family after cheating on him before their scheduled marriage. This upsets her greatly, as you'd imagine.

He quickly finds out that it's Irene Walker that he's after. He quickly arranges a date and they quickly fall in love, even proposing marriage. Given the ponderous pace until now this all seems rather sudden. One of their first tasks as man and wife is to arrange the kidnapping of a bank manager, although knowing the family would not be happy with this he keeps her involvement secret. A complication arises when an innocent bystander, who happens to be the wife of the chief of police is killed. This brings the full wrath of the cops upon the family until they give up the murderers, which is bad for business. As part of their solution, a senior mob figure who Charley was due to be promoted above offers Irene a new contract - one on Charley's life. The rest of the mob, understanding to a fault, demand that Charley kill his wife to atone for her sins.

Clearly not everyone is getting out of this thing alive, and it may not be who you'd expect that does. The film is, I suppose, a rather bleak treatise on love and relationships. It's probably metaphorical, but I can't place exactly what it's a metaphor for. From my limited experience and received wisdom conflicts rarely arise in relationships due to contract killing wranglings. Unfortunately, I just don't care enough about the film to consider it much further.

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I can't quite work out why this film did not engage me on any level. The acting is uniformly above par, there's a reasonable chemistry between Nicholson and Huston, although there seems to be a slight spark missing in the Nicholson / Turner pairing. An accent coach was hired specifically to get everyone's accents down pat, so I'll assume that the odd, slurred, distracting mumbling that Jack and the rest of the family members have is realistic. Realism is not always a good thing.

Huston's direction is adequate, although still rooted in the 40's here, giving the film an oddly dated look well before it's time. The pacing of the movie is overly variable for my taste, being far too slow at the start which is probably my only real reason for forming a nagging, vague distaste for the film. It speeds up and grinds down almost randomly, point in case being the most whirlwind of whirlwind romances in movie history.

Oddly it's William Hickey that steals the show as the Don. Watching him come back alive from the doddering old man to an assertive family head is a joy to watch. Anjelica Huston is great as the scheming Maerose, but she drops out of the movie entirely for the second and third acts only to reappear smack dab at the end, which I found unusual.

Possibly it's a case of mis-advertising. It's clearly labelled as a comedy, but isn't funny to any extent. Anyone expecting bellylaughs will be disappointed to find only a few wry smiles in their place. If a film isn't what you were expecting it can have an uphill struggle to convince you that what it offers is better, and Prizzi's Honor has to stop halfway up that hill for a breather.

This leaves me with a problem as pretty much everything here is at the very worst acceptable; acting, plot, script, direction, and cinematography all are reasonable to good. Yet the sum of it's parts seem more that it's whole. For me, it didn't quite click together as well as it should, leaving the aforementioned nagging 'something isn't quite right' feeling. I can't quite see where the numerous plaudits and Oscar nomination some from here, nothing is standing out as exceptional.

I'm afraid I found this entirely ordinary. It's not terrible, far from it, but it has nothing to raise to above average, as far as I can see.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

John Huston
Cast list:
Jack Nicholson (Charley Partanna)
Kathleen Turner (Irene Walker)
William Hickey (Don Corrado Prizzi)
Anjelica Huston (Maerose Prizzi)