Rated ‘R’ for violence, and language throughout.
Stars Shiloh Fernandez, John Travolta, Stephen Dorff, Kevin Dillon, Timothy V. Murphy, Ashley Benson.
Somewhere in the 1990s, the names John Travolta (Face/Off), Stephen Dorff (Blade) and Kevin Dillon (True Crime) splashed across a giant marquee would have been a casting agent’s wet dream. The closest our digital age gets to marquees are entranceway mylars — slung over the auditorium doors solely for the purpose of differentiating between cookie-cutter multiplex boxes — or worse: a satellite provider’s on-demand menus. Mob Land is a heist movie reunion tour of sorts, a trio of OG heavy-hitters plus a new front man, in this case Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead) as Shelby, brought on board by brother-in-law Trey (Dillon) with the promise that no crooks will be hurt during the making of this film.
Green behind the ears though Nicholas Maggio may be, the first-time director and first-time scenarist (with Rob Healey) follows the action genre’s first rule of thumb ad verbum: venality and villainy go hand-in-hand. The more coolly unprincipled and gleefully debauched the antagonist, the better the picture. (Note to Maggio: if you can afford this cast, surely you can pop for a tripod.) That’s no doubt why the first character seen in Mob Land is Shelby, but the first voice we hear is that of Clayton Minor (Dorff), a chatty, lower-than-dirt contract killer who regales victims with pages of raspy-throated Tarantino-ish dialog before a bullet air conditioner puts character and viewer alike out of their misery. Sadly, the characters don’t possess the depth required to make this more than passable entertainment.
Shelby is a salt-of-the-earth type, a down-on-his-luck family man, out of work and open to suggestions. (The intimate scenes between Shelby and his young daughter are a surefire indication the kid will either turn up dead or kidnapped by the end of reel two.) It’s Trey who breaches the subject of a stickup as a means of picking up a few yards of walking green. The Happiness Fun Center located in the strip mall next to karate school is an opioid mill that, according to Trey, is owned and operated by a pair of fentanyl-soaked zombies. In a moment of near patriotic fervor, Trey argues that he and Shelby invested blood and sweat in the town. Better they should be the ones to profit off their hard work, not a couple of low-class drug dealers. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen a crime film in the past 50 years: it’s a mob storefront. Trey shrugs off the two fatalities incurred during the botched hold-up with, “They were drug dealers.”
The only way prattler Clayton can get people to listen to his wild imaginings is at gunpoint, but it’s the more subdued Bodie who scores the biggest laugh with, “I’d slap you to sleep then slap you for sleeping.” The woman in the picture is Shelby’s adoring wife (Ashley Benson), conveniently shipped out of town with the kids days ahead of the foolproof robbery, only later to be held hostage and terrorized (off camera) by a mob sideboy should hubby decide to misbehave. The four leads hit their marks and stay true to their characters without overplaying. The sheriff in these parts is Bodie Davis (Travolta) a soft-spoken, contemplative peace officer whose mortality is hinted at — something about an oncologist report — just long enough to shade the character in a tragic light. Dorff displays an unexpected soft side, a mercy killing that eschews gunplay in favor of a couple of pills and a shot of whiskey.
The only leading man vainer than John Travolta is Robert Redford. Claudette Colbert changed her hairstyle with greater frequency than Redford. His shingling in The Way We Were spans over three decades yet at any given period, the actor’s thatched coiffure screams Santa Monica Pier c.1972. After finally having the guts to go full Burt Reynolds by doffing his “hair apparent” toupee, Travolta turned his attention to the lawn on his face. The nothing short of miraculous stubble-sculpting makes Crockett and Tubbs look like Otis the Drunk. One guesses the time spent manicuring his putting green whiskers netted his groomer 10 times more than the average sheriff of a small southern town pulled down in a year.
Special features include a commentary track with Nicholas Maggio, Shiloh Fernandez, and cinematographer Nick Matthews in addition to the behind-the-scenes featurette “Walking the Line: The Characters of Mob Land.”