Hot Take: Apparently, Gotti needed to burn through 4 directors, 44 producers and 8 years to get made. At some point, someone, anyone(!) could have stopped this from happening.
The backstory to the release of Gotti is more interesting than the resulting film sometimes described as a passion project of John Travolta but originally something much different. The film was originally supposed to detail the life of John Gotti Jr. and was attached to an impressive list of talent including, at one point or another during the 8 years leading up to its release, Barry Levinson, Nick Cassavetes, Joe Johnston, Al Pacino, Lindsay Lohan, Ben Foster and Chazz Palminteri. Somewhere in the timeline, Joe Pesci was cast and gained 30 pounds for the role of Gotti’s close friend Angelo Ruggiero. Eventually, he was re-cast and had his salary cut and sued Fiore Films, the original studio to own the film’s rights. In 2015, the film landed in the lap of Kevin Connolly of Entourage fame and he was slated to direct. In 2016, Travolta joined the cast and the film began production. Lionsgate, which was set to release the film domestically, was disappointed with the resulting film and chose to skip theaters and go directly to VOD rather than attempt to release the film during the crowded Awards season back in December 2017. Producers cut ties with Lionsgate and found a new distributor in Vertical Entertainment and financial backing from MoviePass Ventures. The former being a distributor that will release pretty much anything in theaters and the latter being a new business venture from the $9.99 per month movie ticket subscription service. The resulting release date became June 15, 2018 and upon release, Gotti became the rare release to receive an odious 0% Tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes. That’s 25 reviews to date (as of June 19th) that have labelled the film “Rotten”. Although not part of the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator, consider this review an unofficial “Rotten” review for the film, as well. But “Rotten” isn’t quite strong enough and while it wasn’t the worst of 2018, it’s pretty darn close.
The film itself is not so interesting. Detailing the 30 years or so of John Gotti’s adult life, Gotti acts as a love letter to its subject matter. Barely touching on the more criminal aspects of his life, the film focuses on him being a family man and relatively likable guy. To be fair, John Gotti (Travolta) is depicted as a murderer a couple of times but it’s so matter-of-fact and ho-hum that it barely sticks with you. Instead, the imagery of him doing positive things for the community and taking care of his family as well as his very close relationship with his son John Jr. (Spencer Lofranco) is the heart of the film. If Gotti were Trump, this would be his Fox News.
The resulting film is oddly awful. I’ve seen plenty of movies that were slated to go direct-to-video and somehow were erroneously resurrected for a brief stint in theaters. Usually, that’s a much smaller number of theaters than the 500+ Gotti landed in. Instead, this feels like something that was expected to be released as a made-for-cable movie that shouldn’t have made the cut. There’s another element thanks to Travolta’s portrayal that makes the movie have a “last skit of the night on SNL” feel. Typically, if you’ve watched enough SNL, the final skit usually features something rather unfunny but occasionally has the host taking on a celebrity impression that while unfunny is serviceable. That’s the best way to describe Travolta’s performance here. Thanks to a terrible script and little or no grit, this propaganda piece about Gotti does nothing for Travolta whose portrayal could be good but instead comes across as more of a sendup. That’s not the intention and it’s harder to pinpoint whose failure this is. It could be Travolta’s who, outside of a few amazing roles (Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Pulp Fiction), has a litany of awful ones (he’s been nominated for a Golden Raspberry for 9 different films and that excludes performances such as Look Who’s Talking Now) and has a constant look of constipation in the film. It’s more likely the result of what has to be one of the most misguided approaches to a mob movie in the history of cinema.
If you’re still thinking of going to see Gotti, reconsider. 40% of the opening weekend ticket sales came from MoviePass members. Making an educated guest, that’s roughly 75,000 of the roughly 190,000 tickets sold on opening weekend. Very few people actually chose to pay to see this movie. And rightfully so. The trailer is awful. The film is awful. If anyone offers you an alternative to seeing Gotti, that’s an offer you can’t refuse. No matter what the alternative is.
You’re one of the 44 producers.
Any reason works. Even a root canal.