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Friday, July 26, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Mobsters': All Dressing, No Story

X "Mobsters," with Christian Slater, Anthony Quinn. Directed by Michael Karbelnikoff, from a script by Michael Mahern and Nicholas Kazan. Alderwood, Aurora, Everett Mall, Factoria, Kent, Overlake, Renton, SeaTac North, Uptown, Valley Drive-in. "R" - Restricted due to graphic violence, strong language. ................................................................ A package in search of a movie.

That's all "Mobsters" is - a hollow concept gussied up with a few big names, a pretty set and some fancy clothes.

Michael Karbelnikoff, making his directorial debut, couldn't find his way out of a wet paper bag, much less put a film together, judging by the evidence offered here. (Not that scriptwriters Michael Mahern and Nicholas Kazan have given him anything to work with.)

His account of real-life gangster Charlie "Lucky" Luciano's rise to power in Prohibition New York is so listless and wooden that it might well be an effective deterrent against gang violence. Why get involved with anything so dull?

New York, 1917. Charlie (Christian Slater) sees both his parents being molested by mobster Don Faranzano (Michael Gambon). Then his friend Joey is knifed on the instructions of Joey's uncle, Don Masseria (Anthony Quinn).

Given the presence of these two freakish powers-that-be in the neighborhood, it makes sense for friends to stick together, even if they're from different ethnic backgrounds. Charlie's pals include Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey), Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor) and Benny "Bugsy" Siegel (Richard Grieco): "Two Italians, two Jews," Charlie muses in voiceover, "funny combination, huh?"

Five years later, Luciano & Co. are muscling in on Faranzano and Masseria's criminal empires. Anti-Semitic remarks are made. Guns are fired. Heads explode. Suits get ruined. And "Twin Peaks" 's Lara Flynn Boyle - as Slater's love interest - gets utterly wasted in more ways than one.

The message behind all this, apparently, is: Friendship is nice, and Lucky and his murderous pals should be your role models. Nevermind the questionable ethics. The purported friendships aren't onscreen to be seen! When Benny regretfully kills his old friend Tommy Renia (Christopher Penn) because of "business," the regret is a surprise because you're hardly aware they knew each other.

In an effort to disguise the lack of script coherence or plot tension, cinematographer Lajos Koltai's camera gyres hysterically around (bring Dramamine if you're determined to see this one). Meanwhile, dozens of extras carry tommy guns in a perplexed manner as if awaiting further instructions. The sometimes charismatic Slater has no charisma here, and the business of boys-being-boys has rarely been so tedious.

"Mobsters" seems expressly designed to keep the mobs away.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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