THE GANG THAT COULDN'T SHOOT STRAIGHT (director: James Goldstone; screenwriters: Waldo Salt/from the novel by Jimmy Breslin; cinematographer: Owen Roizman; editor:  Edward A. Biery; music:  Dave Grusin; cast: Jerry Orbach (Kid Sally Palumbo), Leigh Taylor-Young (Angela Palumbo), Jo Van Fleet (Big Momma), Lionel Stander (Baccala), Robert De Niro (Mario Trantino), Irving Selbst (Big Jelly), Herve Villechaize (Beppo), Frank Campanella (Water Buffalo), Fran Stevens (Baccala's Wife), Harry Basch (DeLauria), Burt Young (Uncle Willie), Sander Vanocur (TV newscaster), Philip Sterling (District Attorney Goodman), Phil Bruns (Gallagher), Jach Kehoe (Bartender), Alice Hirson (The Mayor's Wife), Roy Shuman (The Mayor), Dorothi Fox (Black Meter Maid), Robert Weil (Circus Supply Mgr.); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Irwing Winkler/Robert Chartoff; MGM; 1971)

"The gangster comedy spoof based on the best seller 1968 novel by Jimmy Breslin tanks."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

The gangster comedy spoof based on the best seller 1968 novel by Jimmy Breslin tanks mainly because so-so director James Goldstone ("Roller Coaster"/"Swashbuckler"/"Red Sky at Morning") is the wrong choice and the slapstick comedy results in a mess, and it's further not helped by writer Waldo Salt's inability to transfer the novel's funny dialogue to film. The filmmakers botched making this very funny novel funny, as they failed to make it come to life on the screen.

Second-rate old-time Brooklyn Mafia boss Anthony "Baccala" Vestrummo (Lionel Stander) has his dutiful wife (Fran Stevens) regularly start his car to see if there's no bomb attached to the starter before going to work in South Brooklyn from his Long Island estate. Third-rate young ambitious gangster Salvatore "Kid Sally" Palumbo (Jerry Orbach) leaves his humble walk-up Brooklyn apartment, where he resides with his NYU coed sister Angela (Leigh Taylor-Young) and his eccentric knife-wielding elderly grandma, Big Momma Ferrara (Jo Van Fleet), who counsels him how to run his half-assed gang that includes a dwarf (Herve Villechaize). Kid Sally's boys collect protection money in Red Hook for Baccala, but complain they are not paid enough. Baccala gives the screw-ups one more chance to redeem themselves as valued Mafia workers, as he gives them the important job of running an upcoming bicycle race in the Brooklyn Armory that will feature an Italian team.

One of the pro cyclist from an impoverished small-town in Sicily is Mario Trantino (Robert De Niro), a kleptomaniac who steals everything from his hotel. At a party welcoming the Italian cyclists, Angela is amused by Mario's pocketing the food he steals from the party and they leave the party to walk together in the neighborhood and start a romance. 

When the bicycle track has not been completed and that causes the race to be cancelled, the irate Baccala reduces the gang to being his drivers. Upset with this decision to humiliate them, Kid Sally tries a number of times to assassinate Baccala and his right hand man Water Buffalo (Frank Campanella), but Sally's  boys screw-up the hits. The DA (Philip Sterling) is worried about a gang war in Brooklyn, and assigns police to monitor the gangs.

Meanwhile the larcenous Mario steals a priest's suit from an ecclesiastical tailor and poses as a priest to ask for money for poor Italian orphans. While collecting, Mario is given  Baccala's name and telephone number by a donor. The mobster is perceived as someone who will contribute generously to such a cause. After attending a few funerals for his hired hit men who killed themselves or were accidentally killed trying to carry out the hit, Kid Sally schemes to use the phony priest, now hooked up with Baccala, in his assassination attempt on his rival.

There were some laughs, but the black comedy mostly disappoints with tacky slapstick and should have been much funnier.

REVIEWED ON 1/28/2013       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"