REVIEW / BIOPIC
110 minutes/Opens today
The story: This biography of mob boss John Gotti, whom the tabloids nicknamed "The Teflon Don" and "The Dapper Don", opens near the end of his life, when he is in prison. Gotti (John Travolta) is dispensing advice to his son, John Jr (Spencer Lofranco). In flashbacks, highlights of his life are shown, from the time he was a young underboss to his takeover of the Gambino crime family to the media frenzy around his arrest and conviction in 1992.
From its first moments until the end credits appear, this movie thrashes about for a unifying idea. In between, there is miserably bad acting and confusing editing.
Its worst crime, however, happens just before its closing seconds.
It is when, after more than an hour of skimming over the highlights of the man's life, Travolta as Gotti breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience, Sinatra-like, that he lived his life his way, as if a life of murder and graft needed justification, and such a weak one at that.
When Gotti is not soliloquising like a speaker at a TED talk for idiots, he is busy helping little old ladies with their shopping bags and showing tough love to his children and wife Victoria (played by Kelly Preston, Travolta's real-life wife).
This is the film's moral landscape: Gotti may have butchered a number of people, but let us not forget what a real man and a strong leader looks like. Making omelettes and breaking eggs and all that.
Any film about a member of the Cosa Nostra will live in the shadow of American classics of the genre, beginning in the 1930s and ending with the last episode of the HBO series, The Sopranos (1999 to 2007).
It does not help that Gotti's life intersects with events depicted in another classic, the biography of mob informer Henry Hill, Goodfellas (1990), drawing more attention to the newer film's inadequacies.
Director Kevin Connolly is better known as the actor who played Eric Murphy on HBO series The Entourage (2004 to 2011) and in the movie adaptation of the same title (2015).
Both the cable series and the movie - about the life of a movie star and the group of friends that surround him - depict a pornographic fantasy of the Hollywood high life.
The awfulness of the franchise cannot be blamed on Connolly the actor.
Connolly the director, however, should be blamed for allowing what might have been an interesting study of a sociopathic genius to devolve into a portrait of a people's hero, surrounded by adoring, applauding crowds at his trial.