KATHLEEN TURNER and Jack Nicholson are America's new hit couple. (Even killers fall in love.) She's a freelance contractor and he's the family enforcer in the dry and deadly mobster comedy "Prizzi's Honor."
Directed by John Huston from the novel of the same name by Richard Condon, it's a showcase for Nicholson in an astounding performance as the dim but lovable hit man, Charley Partanna.
Turner is cool, blond Irene Walker, the hit woman who steals Charley's heart, marries him and eventually tries to gun him down. Charley's dad warns that she was the piece man on the Netobini contract. But it's too late. And before you know it, like the song goes, "Dose wedding bells start breaking up dat old gang. . . ."
Nicholson is good at that nasal "d" dialect. And with it, he creates the most memorable gangster since Brando's Godfather. He might even have used the same cotton balls. His voice is dense with Brooklyn, flat and congested as the double-parked, immigrant streets. His forehead and his eyes move so slowly that you can see his mind work like air on a thick day.
Turner is a generous straight woman. And though good, she's not on fire here as she was in "Body Heat." Costar Anjelica Huston, the director's daughter, is far more interesting as Maerose Prizzi, Charley's jilted fiance and tallowy grandaughter of the don.
Maerose has dishonored the family in some fashion that is difficult to fathom. The script by Condon and Janet Roach is as Byzantine as the Prizzi family's politics and often as hard to parse. And a last-minute case of the moral shakes also spoils the love story, strange as it may be.
The atmosphere is brooding and shadowed, as though it were shot under the wing of "The Maltese Falcon." It's so dark sometimes you can't see into the edges of the frame, heavily furnished with deep red velvet curtains, old veneers and dim recollections. The frail Don Corrado sits in a godfather's twilight, pale and quaky but with a steel will. Drama teacher and charactor actor William Hickey plays this broadly entertaining role.
John Randolph is also marvelous as Charley's father, the family consigliere. He looks like John Mitchell whom he played in "All the President's Men," perhaps an oblique reference to another abuse of power, a frequent Condon theme.
Mainly, "Prizzi's Honor" seems to say that hit people are just gangland yuppies. It's not a premise everybody can live with. But Jack Nicholson fans will find it's a deal they can't refuse.
PRIZZI'S HONOR (PG-13) -- At area theaters.