‘MAFIA MAMMA’ is an entertaining though perhaps needlessly bloody comic romp | FILM REVIEW

In the Land of High Concept, this has got to be among the more outlandish—but somehow it works. Toni Collette is Kristin, a sexually frustrated mother in midlife who one day discovers her husband in flagrante with a much younger woman, with the paramour’s fake-apology going as follows: “I’m a feminist!” So therefore OK?

It’s been quite a week for Kristin, who also learns that her Italian grandfather has recently passed away, travel overseas to settle his affairs. In Italy she meets Biana (Monica Bellucci), a top lieutenant in her grandfather’s “legitimate” business of winemaking. A rather dramatic shootout breaks out at his funeral, and Biana, mincing no words, informs Kristin that she is now the boss of the family.

It’s the setup worthy of a sitcom, and this could have failed spectacularly were it not for the significant charm of Collette and the fun chemistry she shares with Bellucci, with the Italian actress all but daring audiences to let them confuse female intimacy with sexual chemistry. It’s fun to watch, but not in a leering kind of way.

Granted, a premise such as this certainly requires over-the-top gags, of which there are a great many—not the least being an assassin trying to take out Kristin while she is on a Zoom work call with colleagues back in the States. Her male coworkers have consistently ignored her ideas and mansplained to her before, and thus, after they mute, the men don’t even notice as Kristin fends off her attacker with a high-heeled shoe. It’s a tremendously funny moment—but also quite possibly the most unexpectedly gruesome scene of the year thus far considering where precisely that stiletto winds up piercing the attacker’s anatomy multiple times (you’ve been warned).

This is fairly typical fish-out-of-water material, but the sincerity and genuineness that Collette brings to the role elevates “Mafia Mamma” above expectations. It’s also rare that we get to see a woman of a certain age exploring her sexuality, and in this way Collette and director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen,” “Red Riding Hood”) make Kristin a figure of empathy—which isn’t to say they don’t find the funny in such aspects of the plot, as they certainly do.

Because this is a mob comedy, there will also be double-crosses and one rather epic shootout, none of it especially groundbreaking. However, Collette is there to anchor it all and make us care about Kristin as she not only deals with extraordinary circumstances but also finds within herself a new motivation and self-love she never knew was there.

Rated R for some graphic violence involving a rather sharp high-heeled shoe, plus profanity throughout.

Opened Friday at select theaters