You’ve got to hand it to Toni Collette — nearly three decades after bursting onto the scene in “Muriel’s Wedding,” the Australian actress remains averse to doing things in half-measures.
From her truly disturbing, take-no-prisoners turn in Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” to assuming numerous identities on several seasons of “United States of Tara,” for which she received an Emmy Award, Collette has never shied away from plunging into the deep end.
Unfortunately, her admirable work ethic goes unrewarded in “Mafia Mamma,” a forced, flaccid farce about a suburban Italian American wife and mother who travels to Rome and becomes a mob boss that leaves a trail of bloody corpses and anemic, tone-deaf gags in its wake.
When Collette’s people-pleasing Kristin Balbano Jordan is summoned to Rome for her grandfather’s funeral, she has little reason not to book the flight: Her son (Tommy Rodger) is heading off to college, she discovers she’s married to a serial adulterer (Tim Daish) and she’s dealing with her marketing firm’s misogynistic work environment.
But upon arrivingin the city of her birth, Kristin realizes not only that she has stepped into an escalating turf war, but that her late grandfather, Don Giuseppe, has named her his successor as head of the Balbano family business, including its wine-making operations.
Although Kristin would rather be engaging in a revenge tryst with the handsome young man (Giulio Corso) she met at the airport, she reluctantly abides by Don Giuseppe’s wishes, shown the ropes by savvy consigliere, Bianca (a tragically squandered Monica Bellucci).
While the fish-out-of-water story might suggest a harmless goof on the sharp 1988 Michelle Pfeiffer comedy, “Married to the Mob” with a more contemporary infusion of female empowerment, the execution struggles from the outset to find a sustainable comedic pitch.
Director Catherine Hardwicke, whose previous output includes the first installment of “The Twilight Saga” and the acclaimed coming-of-age drama “Thirteen” (she previously worked with Collette on 2015’s “Miss You Already”), ultimately seems content to let all the haphazardly flung funny bits land where they may.
Working from a caricature-leaden script credited to J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon, Hardwicke continually mistakes shrill slapstick for the type of light, playful satire required of the high-concept set-up.
As a result, even though filming took place entirely on location in Italy, the production, complete with its “Godfather-esque” musical cues, somehow ends up packing all the convincing cultural authenticity of Hot Pockets.
Likely acknowledging that the cartoonish characters inhabit an emotional range from frenetic to frantic, Collette proceeds to dive in and give it her all, most notably in a jarringly out-of-place, violent confrontation with a would-be rapist.
But even though there’s something admittedly remarkable about witnessing the formerly meek and mild Kristin using one of her high heels to repeatedly spike her attacker in the crotch and eyeballs with such unbridled, Nicolas Cage-level abandon, “Mafia Mamma” nevertheless makes an offer that really can be refused.
Rated: R, for bloody violence, sexual content and language
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: Starts April 14 in general release