Beppo, Ezmo, Mario...uh-oh! When Kid Sally and his gang of goodfellas come up with a plan to grab a piece of the mob action, it'll be a no-brainer. The screen version of newspaperman Jimmy Breslin's best-selling comic novel about a Brooklyn turf war has all chambers firing. Jerry Orbach (Law & Order) plays Kid Sally, a small-timer aiming for the big time by targeting rival Baccala (raspy-voiced Lionel Stander). And on-the-rise screen giant Robert De Niro plays Mario, posing as a priest in the Kid's scheme to give Last Rites to Baccala. It's the perfect crime. Planned by perfect idiots.
Take a glance at the credits and you'll see that director James Goldstone's 1971 comedy The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight
is the work of some mighty impressive names. Screenwriter Waldo Salt had already won an Oscar for Midnight Cowboy
, and would go on to write Coming Home
. Jimmy Breslin, upon whose book the movie is based, was a celebrated New York newspaper columnist. The cast includes a young Robert DeNiro, Jerry Orbach (decades before being unforgettably cast as Det. Lennie Briscoe in Law & Order
), film veteran Lionel Stander, the very appealing Leigh Taylor-Young, and even Herve Villechaize (yes, Tattoo from Fantasy Island
, except here his every line of dialogue has been dubbed by someone without an accent). Unfortunately, the film is decidedly less than the sum of its parts. The cast acquits itself adequately, notwithstanding some heavy-handed stereotypes (Jo Van Fleet, as the Orbach character's knife-happy mama, wears out her welcome early in the first reel). But Goldstone's background was mostly in television, and he handles the film with a heavy hand more suited to a bad sit-com. The story, such as it is, concerns the efforts of the hapless Kid Sally Palumbo (Orbach) and his dumb cronies to usurp mob boss Baccala's (Stander) power. Sally and his gang are inept--it's they, not Baccala, who keep getting knocked off--but not as lame as the movie, which relies on obvious gags, poorly-timed physical shtick, and an unconvincing romance between DeNiro's Italian bike racer-con man and Taylor-Young's Angela (as Sally's sister, although she's about as Italian as Mary Tyler Moore). Some of the bits are amusing, especially those featuring a lion (don't ask) in Sally's charge, but by and large, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight
is a dull disappointment. The DVD includes no bonus material. --Sam Graham