Review: The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

Dopey NYC crooks led by hopeless Jerry Orbach try and muscle in on tough Brooklynite Lionel Stander’s territory, and failing miserably. In a subplot we have goofy and good-natured immigrant thief Robert De Niro (whose character is supposed to be an Italian cyclist) hooking up with Orbach’s sister Leigh Taylor-Young. Lots of familiar mob movie faces turn up in small roles (Michael V. Gazzo and Burt Young among them), and Herve Villechaize even appears, playing a diminutive gang member.

A hard-working cast (Orbach especially) and an absurdist/surreal inclusion of a lion cannot save this frankly not very funny James Goldstone (the pathetic all-star disaster flop “When Time Ran Out…”) oddity from 1971. A little of the slapstick hijinks goes not especially far, with gruff Stander (unrestrained) and several others overacting to the point of great irritation (the recurring gag of Stander’s fear of a car bomb, with his hapless wife being given the task of testing it out, wasn’t even funny the first time). Jo Van Fleet is also hammy, but she gets the film’s funniest moments, what few they are. De Niro, meanwhile, shows promise in an early role (at least in the charisma department), but his almost straight role (the romantic lead, of sorts) doesn’t quite fit here. Poor Herve Villechaize has his entire performance dubbed.

It’s all very silly, frantic, loud, and slapstick gangster comedies are just not my thing (The Stallone flop “Oscar” wasn’t too bad, though). Still, it might prove watchable for the curious, it’s a helluva cast on paper. Scripted by Waldo Salt (cinematic landmarks such as “Midnight Cowboy”, “Serpico”, “Coming Home”), based on a Jimmy Breslin best-seller which is probably a lot funnier. Loved that lion.

Rating: C


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