If noble efforts automatically made for good movies, "Mac" would be among the best. But John Turturro's passion for his subject doesn't serve his filmmaking skills as well as might have been hoped by fans of the torrid character actor.
Perhaps best known for his award-winning role as "Barton Fink" and for a host of weaselly low-lifes in pictures like "Five Corners," "Miller's Crossing" and "Jungle Fever," Turturro here is co-writing and directing for the first time, as well as tackling the title role, a blue-collar workaholic based on his own father.
Mac and his two brothers, Vico and Bruno (Michael Badalucco, Carl Capotorto), have been raised in Queens by an Old World Italian carpenter and his shrill wife (the boys' mother is heard but never shown). They are rooted in the work ethic, but Mac has gone overboard, which makes everyone around him slightly crazy.
When Mac can no longer bring himself to continue cutting corners for the sleazy contractor who employs him, he talks his two brothers into going into business as a family. They plan to purchase a plot of land, build four homes the way they should be built, sell them and use the profits to expand.
But as the boss of this project, Mac is so autocratic that he drives his brothers — and his new wife, Alice (Katherine Borowitz, Turturro's real-life wife) — to distraction. He is so obsessed with his work that he becomes dys-func-tional.
It doesn't help that his brothers would rather get drunk and chase a bohemian model-poet (Ellen Barkin in a funky cameo) rather than get up and work in the morning. And adding to Mac's frustration is the lot where he has built his four houses — located between an asylum and a dairy, so that the screams and/or odor tend to drive potential customers away.
Through all of this, Turturro attempts to convey his obvious belief that work should be honest toil and workmanship should be the highest possible quality. But in this case, it's clear that it comes at the expense of family and friends.
There is dark humor throughout the film, and the ethereal opening scene, a funeral for Mac's father, is effectively off-balance. And Turturro the director has a very nice visual sense.
But much of the film's narrative is muddled and disjointed. Is Mac sick, as characters occasionally say? Or is he just ill-tempered and obsessed? Worse, some of the key characters are woefully under-de-vel-oped.
The result is uneven and disappointing.
"Mac" is rated R for considerable profanity and vulgarity, along with some violence and sex.