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‘Married to the Mob’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 19, 1988

Getting close to the edge lately? Bumping into misfits, weirdos, the occasional psychopath? If so, you may be a character in a Jonathan Demme fantasy. But if you're watching Demme's pictures from a safe distance -- and now it's the delicious Mafia sendup "Married to the Mob" -- you'll thoroughly enjoy the out-of-kilter existence.

After establishing an appealing sense of anarchy in his 1986 "Something Wild," Demme has kept the oddballs rolling. As an almost-mad housewife in Mafia Heights, Long Island, Michelle Pfeiffer is delicately riotous. Dean Stockwell, as the dangerous, lusty Tony "The Tiger" Russo, pumps his character-acting for all it's worth. And the avian-featured Matthew Modine puts an endearing twitch into Mike Downey, the FBI agent who's eavesdropping on Tony and associates.

Linda DeMarco (Pfeiffer) wants out of her present life. Husband Frankie "The Cucumber" DeMarco (an exactingly greasy Alec Baldwin) ices people for Tony and is fond of sex motels with "theme" rooms. Their adolescent son Joey swindles little girls out of their pocket money with card tricks, and everything Linda owns or wears apparently "fell out of a truck."

One sultry greenhouse-effect evening, Tony bulldozes into Linda's life by pumping her husband and Tony's mistress full of lead for fooling around; he then puts the moves on Linda at the funeral. When she escapes to New York City, he follows with red roses, notes and a refrigerator gift-wrapped in fake lame' ribbon. Meanwhile, G-man Mike (Modine), thinking Linda is Tony's new moll, tracks her comings and goings in a bid to finger Tony for murder. But, as in "Stakeout," business gets personal.

Despite the commercial nature of "Mob" (it seems to be aimed at the same people who loved "Moonstruck" and "Prizzi's Honor"), Demme, who also directed "Swimming to Cambodia" and "Stop Making Sense," keeps his pop look and renegade spirit intact. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (in his seventh collaboration with Demme) tracks these lifestyles of da rich and nameless with appropriate anxiety. And production designer Kristi Zea makes garish offers even your Aunt Stella could refuse -- check out the DeMarcos' faux-leopardskin lampshade; or the gladiator scheme of the Fantasia Motel's "Pantheon" room (where the headboard is inscribed, "Veni, Veni, Veni").

Demme also runs scenes cut out of "Mob's" final version over the end credits. It's as if he's purposely spray-painting graffiti on any potential high-gloss finish. And as usual, he rolls in a jukebox-load of diverse and rousing music, including reggae, rockabilly, new wave and even Rosemary Clooney pricelessly singing "Mambo Italiano."

Perhaps most important, Demme keeps his characters (scripted by Barry Strugatz and Mark R. Burns) from wandering into the Buffoon Zone (see "Three Men and a Baby" and "Police Academy" for directions) and leads them down quirkier side streets. They're interesting, even the background people like Linda's muscled, aging queen hairdresser (Charles Napier, a Demme background regular) who tells the unhappy Mafia wife, "It all boils down to good follicles." Or Mercedes Ruehl's more prominent Connie Russo, Tony's terminally jealous wife. Or Stockwell's exasperated Tony, who mutters, pistol in hand, "You disappointed the ---- outta me," before sending the victim to the ultimate theme room.

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