By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
“They have not built a bomb big enough to kill Danny Greene,” says the central character of Kill The Irishman about himself. Unless, that is, you count the movie itself.
Not to be a killjoy, but sometimes “based on real life” on the movie screen seems more like “based on other movies.” And sometimes “based on other movies” really means “based on other, better movies.”
Such is the case with Kill The Irishman, a ho-hum crime biodrama about a mob war that seems so grindingly familiar that you’re almost sure you’ve sat through it before.
It’s about tough-as-nails Irish-American mobster Danny Greene, played by Ray Stevenson, who works for more powerful mobsters in crime-riddled Cleveland in the 1960s and 1970s.
He works his way up the rungs of Cleveland’s crime ladder, from dockworker to union prez to mob kingpin, after which he becomes sort of a Robin Hood figure in the public eye — as well as the target of so many unsuccessful bomb detonations and assassination attempts that he seems downright invincible.
With such familiar faces and voices as Christopher Walken as a loan shark, Val Kilmer as a detective, Vincent D’Onofrio as a gangster colleague, and Paul Sorvino as a rival mobster waltzing through, you would think Kill The Irishman would energetically engage and royally entertain.
But you would be wrong.
Why not? Well, the first half is watchable enough — as a crime-world history lesson, if nothing else — but the uninspired, by-the-numbers narrative seems made up even though it’s true.
The forgettable, clichéd dialogue sounds like a rehash of The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos. The heaping helping of repetitively violent, vengeful retribution and endless parade of car explosions in the notorious summer of 1976 constitutes auto-neurotic overkill.
As for the numerous scenes showing us what a generous Greene heart beats underneath Danny’s tough exterior — meant to make him just as aw-shucks sympathetric as he is fearfully repellent (just as nice as he is tough? Oh, please), they’re laughably obvious, clunky, and hypocritical.
Perhaps most damaging of all, director Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher) — who co-wrote the plodding script with Jeremy Walters based on the novel To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia by Ray Porrello — never makes us believe in the lives as led. We see wives and children and homes and stores in the background, but we’re always aware of a movie being shot rather than everyday life being captured.
And the inclusion of actual news footage in spots fails to gain the film the grittiness or plausibility it seeks.
If there’s fun to be had here — unless you’re from Cleveland, of course, even though the film was shot in Detroit — there’s precious little of it. Watching an old pro like Christopher Walken do his idiosyncratic thing would help, but there’s precious little of it in a movie that sure could use a dash of Walken-quirk.
Instead, we get lead Stevenson, a British actor of Irish ancestry, who lacks the necessary charisma to transcend the material, bringing bulk but not gravitas or charm to the central role.
So we’ll cleave 2 stars out of 4 for the stale and overly familiar gangland biopic, Kill The Irishman.
Have we blown up enough cars yet? Yeah? Okay, somebody kill the lights.