A big, bloated, though frequently engaging gangster movie, Kill the Irishman should properly be viewed late night on TV, flipping back and forth between the film, David Letterman and a west-coast ball game.
At the same time overemphatic and insecure, it's one of those films that constantly remind you who everybody is by having characters repeat each other's names throughout: "Hey Danny, how use doin'?" "That you Danny boy?"
Danny is Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson), a slow-grinning Irish mug who is good to his Cleveland neighbourhood, particularly the saucy Celtic barmaids, but bad for everyone else. The mob and cops both want him off the street - under would be even better still.
But there is no burying Danny boy:
"Give $25,000 to any man who can kill the Irishman," mobster Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken) demands.
"They haven't built a bomb big enough to kill the Irishman," copper Joe Manditski (Val Kilmer) comments later.
They try though. They try. At one point, Danny's car is blown sky high. Just disintegrates. K-boom! But he reappears when the smoke clears, sooty for sure, but eager to remind us who and what we're watching:
"Is that all youse got? It's gonna take more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene."
Though prone to overkill, the movie has its raffish charms. Based on a true story and lifted from the book To Kill The Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia, the film covers Danny's rise to power, his early enforcer years for the mob, with an enjoyably loose, brawling swagger. And star Stevenson (the HBO series Rome) nicely underplays his role, creating a memorable portrait of a neighbourhood strongman who draws courage from his followers' conviction.
The film aptly demonstrates heroes don't create sidekicks. That it's more often the other way around.
The star cameos are also fun. Watching Christopher Walken stroll through his great white loan shark role - "I, ah, provide a unique financial service" - mixing with anonymous supporting players, is like hearing a great jazz horn player out on tour, sitting in with a local rhythm section.
Writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh ( The Punisher) is no virtuoso, alas. Scenes drag on long after they're over. The filmmaker repeats himself. An unnecessary narrator clutters the storyline. Danny Greene's real-life, Ohio turf war included 36 bombings and there are at least that many explosions here.
Kill the Irishman is also lacking in any kind of visual style. Being set in Cleveland in the '70s is no excuse. Crime movies have always been about dressing up. Not just characters, but the screen. Director Howard Hawks' Scarface in 1938 invented the sultry, wet-street-night look that filmmaker Michael Mann would later make so fashionable in Miami Vice and Heat.
The Sopranos had fun creating a suburban noir - transferring disorganized crime to the lush, blue-green New Jersey suburbs.
Kill the Irishman, by comparison, has a generic '70s-era, movie-of-the-week look and feel. It will play better on TV. Especially if there are a couple of good shows nearby to turn to when the action drags.
Kill the Irishman
- Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
- Written by Jeremy Walters and Jonathan Hensleigh
- Starring Ray Stevenson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Linda Cardellini, and Christopher Walken
- Classification: 14A
Editor's Note: The original newspaper version and an earlier online version of this article contained an inaccurate description of the film's length.This online version has been corrected.