Like The Godfather Part II, the narrative of Mafia! consists of a series of flashbacks interwoven with the main plot. Tony is the son of a prominent Mafia don, Vincenzo Armani Windbreaker Cortino. As the film opens, Tony introduces the main thread when he exits a Vegas casino and walks to his car, accompanied by a voiceover explaining his philosophy of life. When he starts the car, it explodes.
The story then regresses more than half a century to describe the boyhood of Tony's father, Vincenzo, who was born in Italy, the clumsy son of a Sicilian postman. One day, while making a delivery for his father, Vincenzo trips and the parcel bursts open, revealing a strange white powder. The parcel's recipient, concluding that the delivery boy has seen too much, tracks Vincenzo to a street fair, where he kills his father. The boy escapes to America, where he grows to young manhood, marries, and struggles with poverty before finally finding his destiny as a mafia boss.
The film then visits the recent past; Tony has just returned from the Korean War and is bringing his idealistic Protestant girlfriend, Diane, to meet his family and friends at his big brother Joey's wedding reception (a parody of Connie Corleone's wedding in the beginning of The Godfather). During the festivities, however, Vincenzo is shot 47 times in an attempted hit and nearly dies. Tony announces his intention to kill Gorgoni, a drug lord with whom Vincenzo had refused to do business before the attack. Diane leaves him, saying he's abandoned the peaceful ideals of his youth, and adding that she'll never be anything to his Sicilian family but "that Protestant chick who never killed anyone." Tony avenges the attack, then goes into hiding in Las Vegas, where Cesar Marzoni offers him the opportunity to manage his casino, The Peppermill. Tony accepts and his casino is a great success until he meets a femme fatale, Pepper Gianini, hired by Marzoni as part of a deep-laid plan to distract him from his duties and to drive a wedge between him and Joey.
Vincenzo recovers from his 47 gunshot wounds and visits Las Vegas, where he officially names Tony his successor. Joey, furious at being passed over, is told "You get Wisconsin." The Don then returns home, where he falls victim to his 5-year-old grandson, Chucky, who assassinates him by spraying him with malathion (parody of Vito Corleone's heart attack in The Godfather). The film returns to the present after Tony catches Joey and Pepper cavorting in a hotel room together and walks out in disgust - only to have his car explode.
Tony is horribly but temporarily disfigured, and attends his father's funeral in a wheelchair, where he spots the killers when he sees little Chucky taking a payoff. However, he decides to postpone vengeance until he can win back Diane's love and put his life in order. Diane has by this time become President of the United States, and is on the brink of declaring total world disarmament when Tony goes looking for her. He persuades her to put world peace on the back burner until after their wedding. During the ceremony, with the help of Vincenzo's mother (Dukakis), several henchmen, and an Eskimo, he settles the family's accounts in an orgy of slaughter (filmed similarly to the end of The Godfather), even arranging the harpooning of Barney the dinosaur as a bonus.Jay Mohr as Anthony "Tony" Cortino
Lloyd Bridges as Vincenzo Armani Windbreaker Cortino
Louis Mandylor as young Vincenzo
Jason Fuchs as Vincenzo Cortino as a boy
Christina Applegate as Diane Steen
Billy Burke as Joey Cortino
Pamela Gidley as Pepper Gianini
Olympia Dukakis as Sophia Cortino
Joe Viterelli as Dominick Clamato
Tony Lo Bianco as Cesar Marzoni
Blake Hammond as Fatso Paulie Orsatti
Phil Suriano as Frankie Totino
Vincent Pastore as Gorgoni
Marisol Nichols as Carla
Carol Ann Susi as Mrs. Clamato
Gregory Sierra as Bonifacio
Catherine Lloyd Burns (uncredited) as Woman in Vegas Show
In its opening weekend the film took $6,577,961 in 1,942 theatres, averaging $3,387. In total in the US, the film made $19,889,299.
Mafia! received generally negative reviews with a 14% "rotten" rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 42 reviews and a 4/10 rating.
James Berardinelli of ReelViews wrote
Airplane! and The Naked Gun [...], two early entries into what has become a thriving comedy subgenre, worked in large part because the humor was fresh. Now, countless movies later, many of the jokes seem recycled, even when they aren't. ... Mafia! [...] has its funny moments, but, in the wake of the hilarious There's Something About Mary, it seems more than a little lame. ... The volume of jokes is extremely high, presumably as a form of insurance—if one fails, maybe the next will succeed. The problem is, Mafia! contains too many duds. And, when you're not laughing, you start to realize how little this film has to offer beyond the diluted humor. ... Mafia! isn't a terrible film, and it will probably provoke at least a burst or two of laughter from even the most grim viewer. On the whole, however, it's a weak parody that is better suited to video viewing than a theatrical experience.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave the film two out of four stars, wrote
Yes, I laughed during Jim Abrahams' Mafia!, but even in mid-chortle I was reminded of the gut-busting experience last week of seeing There's Something About Mary. It is the new movie's misfortune to arrive after, instead of before, the funniest comedy of the year. ... Mafia! is the kind of movie that can never entirely fail, but can succeed to various degrees. It doesn't rank with Abraham's earlier efforts. And in a town where There's Something About Mary is playing, it's not the one to choose.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote
There are a handful of laughs in Mafia!, but most of the movie feels oddly repressed. ... The underworld gags are limited and repetitive, without the ripely promiscuous media-age lunacy that, in a comedy like The Naked Gun, made you feel as if the film were tickling funny bones you never even knew existed. Jay Mohr, as the Michael Corleone surrogate, and Billy Burke, as his psycho-hothead brother, don't even look the part—they're like preppies clowning in a Harvard spoof—and so the film gets virtually no lift from its performers. ... Still, when Mohr's Anthony Cortino grabs his brother's head and gives him the kiss of death, leaving a bright red smear of lipstick ... well, we may all know this genre's tricks too well by now, but that doesn't mean they can't make you smile.