The reason I've never been enraptured by The Sopranos, GoodFellas or other mob fictions is the characters always seem too dumb and cruel to care about, and they say boring things that are supposed to "feel real" simply because they're insulting.
The new video game Mafia II likewise features such verbal inanity. It's a Grand Theft Auto copycat that follows Italian-American mobsters of the 1940s and 1950s who utter: "I heard about your run-in with the Micks." And: "Drinkin' on the job, huh? When did you turn Irish?"
Now look. I realize such indelicacies of the tongue are quaint to the ears of we peoples of the 21st century. But quaint or not, Mafia II's dialogue is hacky - done a million times already. So call me "politically correct," but you are wrong. I am saying heritage slurs are literarily played out.
Mafia II is chockablock with cinematic film scenes, but low on action. You portray a guy named (naturally) Vito, who comes back from World War II a minor hero then joins his best friend's mafia circle.
For much of the game, you are not playing, but you are watching cut scenes of Vito dealing with friends, family, higher-ups and street punks.
Then comes the action, which is low on the totem pole of Grand Theft Auto copycats. For hours and hours, all you get to do is A) drive around in old cars; B) learn how to pick locks); C) punch a few dudes; and D) shoot a few enemies. The worst thing: Cops ticket you for speeding, which slays momentum.
In short, this is an adequate rental if you're into GTA games. But it's fairly valuable to anyone who longs to see a game presenting the New York of the 1940s and 1950s. Those who designed Mafia II's city, cars and music arrangements did fantastic jobs.
In one bar, I found a woman in winter gloves writing notes at a table. I walked up to deal with her, but she wasn't interactive. That's how well-designed the setting is in spots: Background figures seem like foreground characters.
And when I first heard my favorite of the game's great 135 tunes, Peggy Lee's "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe," I had to pull my car over to the side of the road and just listen. Man, that song blows you away.
Then I revved up the engine, killed some cops, and delved into Mafia II's artistic nostalgia of brain-dead killers. Sounds like every mafia thing you've ever seen, doesn't it?