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The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

Based on a very funny novel by columnist/author Jimmy Breslin, this goofy 1971 gangster caper is wildly uneven, offering as many laugh-out-loud moments as it does jokes that fall painfully flat. The mostly anecdotal plot concerns young wiseguy Kid Sally (Jerry Orbach of TV's "Law & Order") who wants to take over the territory controlled by gravel-voiced elder mob guy Baccala (the brilliant Lionel Stander). The complicated, crowded plot includes an ill-advised romance between Kid Sally's younger sister (Leigh Taylor-Young) and an Italian bicycle racer (a very young Robert De Niro), a midget mobster hauling a lion through a car wash (really, it makes sense in context), and a loyal Mafia wife who goes out and starts her husband's car every morning in case it's been booby-trapped. Breslin's book is surreal, dark and hilarious — sadly, his writing hasn't translated to the screen here. The often-inept direction is by James Goldstone, who also helmed such stellar cinematic fare as They Only Kill Their Masters and Rollercoaster. Sight gags are edited poorly, scenes with several actors are crowded and poorly composed, and the actors are encouraged to overact horribly. As a curiosity, the film is worth a gander — De Niro's character, a smooth, handsome con man type, is unlike any that he ever played afterwards, and the cast includes such familiar '70s faces as Jo Van Fleet, Hervé Villechaize, Frank Campanella, Burt Young, Jackie Vernon, and Joe Santos. Warner's DVD release of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is a bare-bones affair, offering a reasonably clean by very grainy anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with good color saturation and nice contrast. The monaural Dolby Digital 1.0 audio (English, with optional English, French or Spanish subtitles) is adequate. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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