Gotti Biopic Widely Panned by Critics

"John (Travolta) was great, but it wasn’t perfect because nobody could have gotten it perfect. John did a better job than Armand Assante [in the 1996 film “Gotti”], and Armand did a good job."

---John Junior Gotti, who is not one to mince words...nor hedge bets...

John Travolta dons the white suit and does the Saturday Night Fever thing.....

"I’d rather wake up next to a severed horse head than ever watch “Gotti” again," began a recent memorable New York Post review of the long-gestating gangster revisionist biopic, Gotti.

The reviewer added: "The finished product belongs in a cement bucket at the bottom of the river."

And he called it the "worst movie of the year so far."

In the years -- eight, in total -- it took to make this film, four directors passed on the project, which had a grand total of 44 producers. Kevin Connolly, the fifth and final, helmed the film, which premiered Friday night. So we can blame him. Connolly was on Entourage! we heard so many times, once he signed the contract. Well, he can star in any frigging TV show on the planet and still be a bad director, one whose editing is "ham-handed" and "stylistically incoherent."

And what happened to Travolta, who spoke in an authentic strain of Brooklynese when he played Tony Manero. (See clip, below) His Gotti voice however was a godawful version of a New York accent.

Tony Manero sounded like a New Yorker...

And Travolta used his star power to keep this afloat long after it should've sank like someone wearing cement shoes. WHY??? Did perhaps Travolta view the role as the former Gambino boss as an opportunity to channel Marlon Brando's Don Corleone? Or did he make promises after one too many glasses of vino? 

Lemme tell you summin’ – New York is the greatest fuckin’ city in the world … my city.”

Those are the film's first words spoken, by Travolta over an opening montage that critics say actually is the clearest indication that this quintessential New York City story was shot predominantly in -- Cincinnati.

I love the part, later in the film, when a mobster tells Gotti about the monstrous obstacle he faces after killing Castellano. He needs “the support of all five boroughs”.... Then, the script requires him to speak the name of each borough: "Brooklyn... Queens... the Bronx ....  Manhattan... Staten Island..... 

Gives me pause every time I watch it....Never was so much drama infused in such innocuous dialogue.

Looking back at a great film...

One review of the film notes that Gotti gives only two events  their due: The 1980 accidental death of ­12-year-old Frank Gotti and the assassination of Gambino boss Paul Castellano and his underboss/driver Thomas Bilotti outside Sparks Steak House in 1985 midtown Manhattan.

As for the rest of the film, it is "an excuse for ­Travolta to shmact and for his wife, Kelly Preston — playing Gotti’s wife, Victoria — to howl like Medea."'s review pretty much nails it:

"How Gotti went from a soldier in the mob to the King of the organization is loosely sketched in over the course of “Gotti,” but it’s all just an excuse for the kind of awful mob dialogue that reminded me more of the satirical “Mafia!” then anything else. Gotti says things like “There is no choice—there is only what you do,” and speaks about manhood and duty so much that it becomes numbing long before it’s over. It just wallows in the clichés, and so this portrayal of Gotti never feels threatening, even when he warns someone that he will “park a bus up your ass fucking sideways.”

The film allowed the guy who played Jason Molinaro on The Sopranos to show off how seriously he takes his friendship with the former lead-decision maker of the Gambino crime family's ruling panel. Specifically, even though this actor accepted the role of Sammy Gravano, he declared, for all who'd listen, that he was not going to speak to anyone in Gravano's family to prepare for the role.

Gotti also takes a highly questionable moral stance .... The film is pro-Mafia propaganda. Considering the source material, Junior's self-published memoir, it was easy to foretell that this might be the case. Yet it remains downright bizarre to see filmmakers fully buying their subject’s account of events, including depicting Gotti as a doting family man whose crimes are committed largely off-screen and in how harshly it rebukes the Feds for their alleged ill-treatment of the Gottis in the dozen or so trials brought against the various men named John Gotti.

What did we expect, really? Think of the chain of events: Junior hired an army of researchers, selectively perused stacks of documents and banged on his typewriter keys until he reached THE END, then rushed  into print the oh-so-psychologically revealing titled work Shadow of My Father. My point being that this was never a book written out of a burning desire to tell the truth, Rather, it was a pure apologia rushed into print simply to beat Gotti's Rules, a superior effort to tell another side of the Gotti story by George Anastasia about Gambino henchman John Alite.

Saturday Night Fever put disco on the map, for better or worse...

Is Junior thankful that Travolta--who has been acting for decades and has played every conceivable role possible, including lending his star power to a "talking baby" flick-- stepped up to the plate as spokesperson, when Junior probably was viewed as a less-then-credible source? Not at all -- he seems quite far from thankful. Junior is actually critical of the film, calling it "too violent" months ago. More recently, he did his part to boost interest by declaring: "Travolta doesn’t have my dad’s swagger."

Even more baffling is that he hasn't described his own role in the production of the film. Obviously, he wrote the source material. But he had to have been more hands-on. Junior, an ex-gangster who never made a film in his life, seems to be the most likely suspect who caused much of the seemingly unnecessary behind the scenes tumult. So many big names briefly associated with the film decided to sever ties, and in one case, filed a lawsuit.

Is John Junior's hand the unseen force guiding much of the Gotti story?

The film and (the subject of another upcoming story) that A&E production, Godfather and Son, all sprang from Junior's vision, which is laid out in detail in his book, Shadow of My Father.

Based on what I have seen, read and heard (I know people who knew Junior intimately, for many many years) I can raise the theory that Junior's interest isn't in detailing truth and making it as compelling as possible. And I don't think Junior's goal is to make money either, with these works. Rather, Junior is attempting to control the narrative. He believes this is how he can better mythologize his father's story.

At least one writer noted: "His detailed insight into the production seems to betray the larger hand he may have covertly extended...."

Here's part of the rest of Junior's monologue about Gotti, the film (apparently he considers a film's duration, its running time, among the key virtues):

My big gripe? This project started out with the promise of being a three-hour, $70-million movie. In the end, the movie is 100 minutes long — and you really can’t capture a 600-page book in 100 minutes. It’s impossible. This should be a 10-part series.  . . . JT [Travolta] had to act the s–t out of this movie because there’s no exploding buildings or crashing airplanes. ....

John was great, but it wasn’t perfect because nobody could have gotten it perfect. John did a better job than Armand Assante [in the 1996 film “Gotti”], and Armand did a good job. There are overreactions that weren’t my father’s personality. In one scene, I’m being introduced to him for the first time as a street guy [after being inducted into La Cosa Nostra] and they have him a little bit too overjoyed. It would have been a more serious, solemn moment for my father.

I thought John did a tremendous job looking like him, although JT is a lot taller and has different color eyes. Their builds are different. My dad was [5-foot-10], barrel-chested. JT doesn’t have my father’s natural swagger ... 

When producers told me Stacy Keach was playing Neil Dellacroce [Gambino crime family under-boss and John Gotti’s mentor], I thought it was going to be a disaster — I remember him in Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke.” But he absolutely nailed it. ...

Some critics say this movie glorifies the mob. Really? Really? What part glorifies the mob? The loss of dear friends due to prison or murder? ....

I’m a movie buff. My favorite of all time is “Spartacus.” On a scale of 0-10, I gave “Braveheart” an 11. I give “Gotti” a 7 because it’s not long enough for me. The 100-minute Hollywood formula is not appropriate for this story.


Earlier last week, on June 12, Travolta helped kick off the film's premiere by donning a white Saturday Night Fever suit and going back to Brooklyn to the famous pizzeria Lenny's, where he was honored with a block party hosted by his co-star – and Bensonhurst native — William DeMeo, who, as noted previously, played Sammy the Bull.

DeMeo recalled for the Daily News how he had watched Travolta step up to Lenny’s window in the opening of the 1977 classic film Saturday Night Fever.

That day a bearded Travolta also received a lifetime achievement award for helping promote Brooklyn with his film and television work.

Here is Travolta's speech, courtesy of the News:

"I feel like Brooklyn has been in my DNA since Welcome Back Kotter. I love you all so very much, thank you for giving me such a foundation for my career. And I hope that this week you will all go out and support the Gotti movie. And I want to say a special thanks to John Gotti Jr. and his whole family for supporting that movie, that story, and John Gotti lives forever. So support us, join us at movie theaters, we love you, we love Brooklyn, thank you very, very much."

Lenny's Pizza in Brooklyn was highlighted in the 1977 blockbuster when Travolta's Tony Manero character ordered two slices and ate them one atop of the other as he strutted....

Some stray thoughts:
  • Travolta appears as a 30-year-old Gotti and a bald, cancer-riddled septuagenarian.  Spencer Lofranco, who played Gotti’s eldest son and criminal heir, changes not a whit as he plays Gotti Jr from  teendom to baby-faced middle age.
  • The director enlisting the services of Armando Cristiano Pérez – better known to Top 40 pop-rap aficionados as Pitbull – to compose the film’s score, throwing a few of his own numbers into the stew. What in the world does Latin hip-hop have to do with John Gotti?
  • The Cannes film festival has showcased some dubious films – but perhaps never one like Gotti, which was quietly shuffled into the lineup mid-festival, treated as "discreet and embarrassing as a silent fart in an elevator." Cannes downplayed its presence – giving the flick a single screening in one of its smallest screening venues, with no press show or red carpet preamble. And on June 12, Travolta -- he of the "fake news" proclamation (seems increasingly like Lions Gate dropped the biopic because they knew it was a stinker) -- for all the publicity he did in Brooklyn, declined to say nary a word about the film....

Junior wants to control the narrative. In some cases, this involves actually rewriting history --- as well as leaving out inconvenient chunks of it. Nevermind how he screws with the heads of some of the people who knew him by changing certain details.... (I will get into this a lot more with that story about Gotti: Godfather and Son.)

The opening montage that made film history...

As George Anastasia noted on Gang Land News, in a story about Junior's 302, which was released to much fanfare in the book Gotti's Rules:

"I reprinted the full five-page memo in Gotti's Rules, my book about Alite and Junior Gotti that was published on January 27. Junior's lawyer Charles Carnesi may scream and holler about how the document made its way into the book, but from where I'm standing that's just another example of the Gotti camp attempting to control the narrative.

"The issue shouldn't be how the memo got into the book, but rather what the memo says.

"Since Gang Land first broke the story in 2006 about Gotti's attempt to cut a deal with the feds, Junior and his people have been in spin control, offering different versions of the why and what of that sitdown with the authorities. It wasn't what it seemed, say Junior and his apologists.

"My purpose in reprinting the memo in total was to let those who read it draw their own conclusions. ...."

Amen, George....


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