Maverick director Abel Ferrara's strange vision remains as gloomy as ever. Take The Funeral's fun-loving Tempio brothers. After the bullet-ridden corpse of the youngest, Johnny, has been unloaded from a hearse in the opening scene, the family's hobbies are revealed in a series of cosy flashbacks:
Apart from attending Communist Party meetings, handsome Johnny (Vincent Gallo) liked nothing better than to watch his best mate shag his girlfriend. Psychotic Chez (Chris Penn) beats up his wife (Rossellini) on a regular basis and sickeningly rapes an underage girl, while cold-hearted Ray (renta-bad-bloke Walken), who killed a man at the tender age of 13, threatens to hack off a rival gangster's pins with an axe. Grim, icky and riotously violent, The Funeral steals all your money and drops you in the Hudson wearing a cement overcoat.
But unredeemed nastiness makes for one-dimensional characters. Ferrara and his regular scriptwriter Nicholas St John clearly set out to make a mini Godfather by exploring the bloody deeds and fraught personal lives of a trio of Big Apple Mafia brothers. The trouble is, the Tempios are a bunch of hateful small-timers compared to the Corleones.
Walken's successful search for Johnny's killer generates absolutely no tension (there are only two suspects). Fleeting interest comes from the sleazy scenes in the brothers' nightclub, but these are mere diversions, much of the film being devoted to the characters' half-baked spouting about Catholicism. And to cap your disappointment, the final "bloodbath" features just one gun and is over in 30 seconds - and this from the man who orchestrated a shootout of Woo proportions in the King Of New York.
With no single Tempio allowed to hold centre stage, the top-drawer cast makes minimal impact. Ray has no depth as a character (again acting on autopilot, Chris goes down with another bout of Sleep-Walken); Penn is far too tubby and cheerful to be as menacing as Ferrara intends Chez to be; and Rossellini and Sciorra just mooch about waiting to be slapped. Only Benicio Del Toro convinces - as Spoglia, the ice-cool mobster who may (or may not) have whacked Johnny.
In its favour, The Funeral looks great, and fine Billie Holliday tunes beef up the period soundtrack, but sound and style can't save the film from high-diving into monotony. Watch Se7en on video instead - for a bit of light relief.
Shockmeister Abel Ferrara invites you to join the Tempio clan for eight murders, two beatings and a funeral in '30s New Yawk. But tell him you already have plans, because a top-notch cast is criminally wasted in this gloomy and unpleasant Mafia saga.