Gotti sucks, but let's face it, you knew that going in. It's a cinematic storm to be weathered, not a cool summer rain to be relished.
John Travolta has been on a downward trajectory for decades now; the promise and goodwill of Pulp Fiction, Face/Off, and yes, even the Hairspray remake, squandered via enough DTV dreck that even Nic Cage winces while glancing at the former Brian De Palma frontman’s resume. As a performance piece, Gotti is really nothing more than an expansion on the caricature work he was doing in American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson (where he ghouled it up as Juice defense attorney Robert Shapiro), a garish approximation of the real world gangster that does its lead no favors by including footage of the actual kingpin during the opening credits.
Directed by Kevin Connolly (yes, “E” from HBO's frat boy circle-jerk, Entourage) and co-written by Lem Dobs (The Limey) and Leo Rossi (of Halloween II and Maniac Cop 2 infamy – more on this in a minute), Gotti isn't heinous, but rather your run of the mill "bad". Beginning with Travolta addressing the camera and sporting a Tony Goombah Queens Boulevard accent, Connolly's film is a rise-and-fall tale that's in love with the "New Yawk" of it all. In fact, it's so adoring of this Mafioso and his Big Apple tabloid affectations, one could imagine Donald Trump screening it in the White House and chuckling along with Travolta's humanized "big bully" persona, who lost one son to a tragic car accident, and tells John Gotti Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco) to "never admit to nothing" once that Large Adult Son is facing his own day in court. He's simply misunderstood and trying to protect his powerful clan after they rose to prominence, just like Orange Donnie and the Moron Twins.
In fairness, there's a gutter-mouthed authenticity that feels delivered directly from Rossi, who – beyond playing the universe's sleaziest EMT in the follow-up to John Carpenter's slasher classic – worked for years with 42nd Street auteur Bill Lustig (and whose previous writing credits include penning low-rent mafia tales We're Talkin' Serious Money and Mafioso: The Father, The Son). This is Goodfellas, dumbed down to the nth degree, as title cards introduce NYC underworld legends like Frank DeCicco (Chris Mulkey) and Sammy "The Bull" Gravano (William DeMeo) instead of Ray Liotta's smooth narration and Martin Scorsese's smoother steadicam work. Were it made in ‘82 instead of ‘18, Gotti would be playing as a second or third feature at an all-night grindhouse (probably titled Return of The Godfather, or something else wholly exploitive), while hookers go down on $20 johns in the back row and junkies nod off to the "click-click-click" of the booth’s projector. In short, it's just a mediocre programmer with very little upside beyond the mean mugging of a movie star on the brink of collapse.
What is interesting is the way this Redbox-appropriate shitshow is being sold to the general public. Yesterday, there was a minor uproar on Twitter amongst film writer types when a new promo for Gotti was released, labeling all who gave the movie a poor review untrustworthy "trolls":
Audiences loved Gotti but critics don’t want you to see it… The question is why??? Trust the people and see it for yourself! pic.twitter.com/K6a9jAO4UH— Gotti Film (@Gotti_Film) June 19, 2018
Oh, Madonna Mia.
Now, about the claim that "audiences are loving Gotti". Paste points out that exit scores on Rotten Tomatoes have possibly been manipulated, as the figures that are being presented as popular qualitative proof just don't make any sense:
"Gotti, which made headlines when it received financing and distribution from subscription service MoviePass, was absolutely savaged by critics, and can currently boast the rare “perfect 0%” RT score. Its Audience Score, on the other hand, is a robust, fairly respectable 76%. But it’s not the overall score that stood out, it was the number of ratings. After opening on just 500 screens this weekend and making a pitiful $1.7 million at the box office (good for 11th place this weekend), Gotti has somehow garnered almost 7,000 user reviews. Compare that with The Incredibles 2, which has earned only 7,600 user reviews in the same amount of time, despite making an astounding 105 TIMES MORE than Gotti at the box office in the same one-weekend period, and it immediately becomes clear that Gotti’s number makes no sense."
Again, in fairness to Gotti, the author may have gotten a bit drunk on their own piss and vinegar, as BMD's industry expert James Emanuel Shapiro notes that the movie still averaged $3,500/screen in barely 500 auditoriums across America, a rather "respectable" figure for a drop of this size (Shapiro elaborates "for 500, $10,000 is huge, $5K is good, and $3,500 is respectable").
However, the Paste piece also notes that "Reddit sleuths" went digging into the accounts of RT users who were giving Gotti a "fair shake", and discovered an eyebrow-raising trend:
"I went to take a look at the written reviews on RT and of the first 58 reviewers with an available profile, 45 had created their account in June 2018. Out of these 45, 32 have only reviewed Gotti, 10 reviewed Gotti and another movie (7 times it was American Animals for some reason) and 3 had more than 3 reviews."
The connection between Gotti and American Animals is clear. Gotti is the second feature that MoviePass has invested in after Animals, having purchased a six-figure equity stake in Connolly's film back in April. That means, should the movie turn a profit, MoviePass Ventures would get a cut of that cash. This would be big for the company, as they've been bleeding money for months thanks to a financially-suspicious, fast-growing subscription model. According to analysis over at QZ:
"The critical and financial performance of Gotti was a departure from the first movie MoviePass took a stake in, American Animals, a heist film that it picked up with distributor The Orchard at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie got a decent reception on the festival circuit and solid reviews from critics. MoviePass promoted it heavily through the app and other communications. It premiered in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles in June, concentrating audiences at those venues, and bringing in a healthy haul of $135,000, or nearly, $34,000 per theater, before expanding to other cities."
Essentially, the inflation of Gotti's reviews seems to be a desperate attempt on MoviePass' part to try and match their previous film's decent bow at the art house box office, only on a slightly larger scale. Seeing how $3,500/screen is just over 10% of $34,000/screen, they've failed to do so, and are now attacking critics as a means of doubling down on their investment. It's the #FakeNews method of attempting to sell a movie: "don't trust the elite media, as your drinking buddy who's already seen Gotti probably has a better read on it." The whole affair's a preposterous charade of miscommunication, so flagrant it's almost admirable from a pure huckster standpoint.
When combined with the movie's text, this is why Gotti is essentially Goodfellas for the Trump voter: not only is it extolling the virtue of being a morally-dubious NYC bigwig with stupid offspring, it's being sold the same way that Trump tries to keep his base believing he has their best interests at heart. The entire production is now mired in numbers manipulation, mudslinging at journos dissatisfied with the product they're paid to review, and a company employing ethically questionable means to try and keep their ship afloat. All we need now is some sort of Russian collusion, and the story behind Gotti's piss poor sales pitch would be the perfect metaphor for our political era: a shitty Big Apple icon, bolstered by even shittier sales tactics. For shame.