In the late 1980s, a RICO trial is pending against The Mafia, specifically the Lucchese Family. Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel), a mafioso who has already been convicted for another crime and is currently serving out a 30-year prison term is indicted as well, but decides to represent himself. Hilarity Ensues.
This film provides examples of:
- A Fool for a Client: This movie loosely portrays the real life trial of the Lucchese Crime Family in the 1980s, where gangster Jackie DiNorscio decided to defend himself in court after getting fed up with his previous lawyer, starring Vin Diesel as DiNorscio.
- Hero Antagonist: Sean Kierney seeks to convict Jackie and the rest of the Lucchese Family and is an enemy for them to overcome.
- Mister Big: The lead defense attorney for the mobsters is Ben Klandis, played by Peter Dinklage. It's otherwise never really brought up, except when he has to use a podium to address the court. He's clearly the most articulate and competent of the bunch, especially in comparison to Jackie.
- Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: DA Kierney, despite fighting for a genuinely good cause to end a good chunk of The Mafia, is very much a Smug Snake in the way he handles himself. Meanwhile, with the exception of their abrasive boss, the mobsters are portrayed as friendly bohemians with a lot of comraderie.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: DiNorscio, despite being a repugnant, completely unapologetic lifelong gangster, is treated as an underdog Comedic Hero fighting against a corrupt system, while his opponent NY District Attorney Sean Kierney is a bonafide Jerkass despite his indictments against the Calabrese Family's numerous crimes (murder, racketeering, drug dealing, etc.) being absolutely correct. This is exacerbated because their crimes are never shown, only mentioned during the courtroom proceedings, making the mafioso come off like a bunch of well-dressed goofsters being maliciously targeted by the authorities. At one point Kierney, after becoming frustrated by them getting sympathy from the jury, denounces this in private, saying to his aides that they don't get what kind of people the defendants are. Some reviewers were also repelled, saying it was difficult to be happy with a movie that ends like this.
- Villain Protagonist: Jackie DiNorscio is a lifelong criminal whose efforts to secure an aquittal for himself and his associates is the main focus.