PLOT Biopic of Mafia boss and tabloid figure John Gotti, the Teflon Don.
CAST John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach
RATED R (strong violence and pervasive language)
BOTTOM LINE Fuggedaboutit.
From Massapequa to Manhattan, from his first mob hit in 1973 to his ascendancy as Mafia boss in the 1980s, to his continual beatdown of prosecutors’ cases to earn the nickname the Teflon Don, John J. Gotti became a celebrity followed by so many paparazzi it’s surprising none got whacked. Because no matter how much a folk-hero halo he gets in this film — based on the book “Shadow of My Father” by his son and successor, John A. “Junior” Gotti, and not screened for critics — Gotti the elder was more made man than family man. That point is glossed over in favor of mob-movie clichés about honor, manhood, being a stand-up guy and all those other things that get tossed out the window the minute you order a hit on Paul Castellano.
Directed by Patchogue-raised Kevin Connolly (Eric “E” Murphy in “Entourage”) and starring John Travolta, “Gotti” is a connect-the-dots disaster — the don's greatest hits, so to speak — without discernible theme or cohesive narrative. What feel like plot pieces from different movies are strung together with long excerpts from vintage newscasts featuring the likes of WNBC/4’s John Miller and WABC/7’s Roger Grimsby substituting for dramatized events.
The story bounces uneasily between flashbacks and a tense meeting in which Junior (Spencer Lofranco) visits his dad in prison to discuss a plea deal for himself after he had been charged with several crimes, including racketeering. The elder Gotti’s denunciation of plea deals sounds like at least an attempt at righteous honor — except, and the movie doesn’t show it, Gotti himself had accepted a plea deal for that aforementioned first mob hit. (And it was actually an accomplice who pulled the trigger in real life, but why let facts get in the way?)
That factual fancifulness is all the more surprising since the film is stuffed with too many characters in an attempt at documentary-like verisimilitude, among them Stacy Keach as Neil Dellacroce, Pruitt Taylor Vince as Angelo Ruggiero and Chris Mulkey as Frank DeCicco. One bar fight is choreographed in such murkiness and silhouette it’s impossible to tell who’s fighting who. And some of the music choices are sacrilegious: “Theme From Shaft” during a Gotti motel-room hit — yeah, he’s cool and dashing — and “House of the Rising Sun” during his funeral procession, where people in more old news clips praise their friendly neighborhood capo.
"Gotti" might seem like a cautionary topical tale about blind loyalty to demagogues, except that the movie itself is guilty of that, with a text coda castigating the government for prosecuting the poor innocent Gottis.