How Sweet It Is: Can a mob musical comedy work?


Yes, of course it can … so long as you take the “musical” part out of it.


As a general rule (and I’ve said this several times before in previous reviews) I’m not an altruistic comedy film watcher. On occasion I will enjoy them, but the times are few and far between when I’ll plunk myself in front of a big or small screen to catch one.

I figured How Sweet It Is could either go one of two ways: Pure cheese-fest or surprisingly workable.

But How Sweet It Is (via HSII co-writer and CliqueClack contributor Jay Black) piqued my curiosity. This was as good a time as any for a “once in a blue moon” venture into comedy, I figured. And with it being a musical to boot? Well, a little added bonus to wrap my head around.

When I read the premise of the film (“An alcoholic theater owner needs to put together a successful musical in order to pay off his mob debt, but problems arise when the wise guys want to cast their friends in the production”) I figured it could either go one of two ways: Pure cheese-fest or surprisingly workable. I wasn’t planning on getting a little bit of both. Throw in the sidelines of a father/daughter reconnection and some emotional interjection and there was more … well … just keep reading …

“You … you’re Jack Cosmo. You’re a genius. With your words and music, you take away all the nonsense and mundanities of this quotidian life that we are forced to endure. You do that with your words and your music. What do I do? I break kneecaps and collect coins.” – Big Mike to Cosmo

Did the premise work? , playing down-on-his-luck Jack Cosmo, pulls off some nice lines and workable scenes when he goes mano a mano with mafioso Big Mike (). The supporting cast solidly works off each other with the majority of their well-placed zingers and one liners hitting the mark. (We can thank Jay Black’s years on the comedy circuit — along with fellow writer and director Brian Herzlinger — for those spots gelling as well as they did.) I’ll point out, however, many of the comedic elements were realized in the trio of Big Mike’s son (also a Mike played by ) and mooks Greg (Steven W. Bailey) and Tim (Steven Chase, the late Jack Klugman’s cousin as it turns out). During the auditions, I actually guffawed several times as Jack began putting his show together. The sight of the little person who came out with a dummy was enough to get me chuckling, but the unexpected ending to his particular audition is the reason I was glad I wasn’t drinking anything at the time. (One of those guffaw moments.) And Jonathan Slavin as “methed up” crackhead Clifton was over-the-top funny throughout. So yes … the premise worked in that regard.

“Hey, Mike … that’s bad. It’s like watching a slow kid falling down a flight of steps …” – Tim “Hey, who cares? The quicker that asshole screws up, the quicker he’s dead and we can get back to doing what we love …” – Mike “Organic farming?” – Tim “Interior decorating? ” – Greg “Kicking ass! Geez … sometimes you guys are embarrassing …” – Mike

Additionally, there were build-up side stories between Jack and his daughter Sarah as well as she and rookie FBI agent Ethan that mostly held water as the film progressed.

Where things got messy was at the culmination of the musical production Cosmo put together during the last 20 minutes or so of the film. It was just this side of painful. The numbers brought on the cheese-fest I’d been looking for at the start … and at full bore. Actually, I got a whiff of things to come when Jack pulled out a little mini showpiece early on giving Ethan a taste of Jack’s history. Still, the interlude wasn’t that bad … a typical “jazz hands” number. But “the show” in and of itself wasn’t my cup of tea … and I suspect it didn’t go down well in many others’ cups, either.

To be fair, there was spectacle in the song and dance performances. And there was scenery. And effort. There was even some emotion tossed in for good measure. But the sum of all these parts didn’t add up to a razzle-dazzle showcase worthy of the cheers Big Mike was kudoing its way.

In many respects, How Sweet It Is aped some of the best elements of a mob comedy, Analyze This for example. (I would go so far as to also note there were nods to The Sopranos on several levels, not the least of which was Sopranos alum being one of the more obvious ones, despite the fact he was on the other side of the fence as an FBI agent.) But the film lost me during the finale — the payoff of Jack’s number stumbled and came up short.

But I’m not letting it spoil the fact I saw some spiffy talent and laugh-out-loud worthy interplay throughout.

How Sweet It Is debuts in New York, Los Angeles and Bergen County, NJ (!) Friday, May 10th.

Photo Credit: Factory Entertainment Group

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