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Theatrical release poster
Theatrical release poster

Wise Guys is a 1986 black Mafia comedy film directed by Brian De Palma and produced by Aaron Russo from a screenplay written by George Gallo and Norman Steinberg. It stars Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo as two small-time mobsters from Newark, New Jersey, and features Harvey Keitel, Ray Sharkey, Lou Albano, Dan Hedaya, and Frank Vincent.


Italian American Harry Valentini and his Jewish friend and next-door neighbor Moe Dickstein occupy the bottom rung of Newark Mafia boss Anthony Castelo's gang. Making a living by doing Castelo's lowest jobs (such as looking after his goldfish, testing out bullet-proof jackets, or checking the boss's car for bombs) the two men dream of opening the world's first Jewish-Italian delicatessen. However, they get little to no respect from their boss or his subordinates, who frequently ridicule them.

They accompany Frank "The Fixer" Acavano, one of Castelo's top men and a violent, heavyset psychopath, to Meadowlands Racetrack to place a bet on Castelo's behalf. Valentini changes horses at the last minute because his boss usually bets on the wrong one. However, this time Castelo had fixed the race, meaning that Harry and Moe now owe their boss thousands. After a night of torture, both are forced to agree to kill each other.

Unaware that each has made a deal and frightened following the murder of Harry's cousin Marco, they steal Acavano's Cadillac and travel to Atlantic City to see Harry's uncle Mike, a retired mobster who started Castelo in the crime business. After using Acavano's credit cards to pay for a luxury stay in a hotel owned by their old friend Bobby DiLea, the two go to Uncle Mike's house to ask for help. They find only Uncle Mike's ashes, leading to Moe leaving in disgust. Grandma Valentini, however, is able to give Harry the money he owes.

Harry tries to get DiLea to sort things out with Castelo. As he and Moe leave the hotel, their limo is being driven by Acavano, after DiLea appears to double-cross the two. Harry luckily spies Castelo's hitmen and decides to stay behind and gamble the money. After a chase through the hotel casino, Moe catches up to Harry and accidentally shoots him. Harry is pronounced dead and Moe flees.

Back in Newark, Moe hides out of sight at Harry's funeral. He is spotted by the huge Acavano (who is eating a sandwich during the burial service) and Castelo resolves to kill Moe after the service. Moe returns to his house and prepares to hang himself. Before doing so, sees a vision of Harry at the foot of the stairs. He quickly realizes that it is actually Harry, who arranged the whole thing with DiLea. Moe is thrilled, although he is so shocked that he is almost hanged anyway until Harry intervenes.

Harry provides a skeleton for Moe and they write a suicide note before turning on the gas and setting fire to the curtains. As the two leave Moe's house, however, the door slams shut and puts the fire out. Castelo and his men enter to find a bizarre scene. Castelo takes out a cigarette, prompting his stooges to routinely spark their lighters for him. Acavano asks "Who farted?", prompting Castelo to realize the house is filled with gas just before the house explodes, with the crew inside it.

Harry and Moe return to Atlantic City, where Moe bemoans the fact that they didn't keep the money. Harry informs him that he did save the money, but has invested it. Moe seems perturbed, but the film ends with their dream realized as the two stand in their Jewish-Italian delicatessen.


  • Danny DeVito as Harry Valentini
  • Joe Piscopo as Moe Dickstein
  • Harvey Keitel as Bobby DiLea
  • Ray Sharkey as Marco
  • Dan Hedaya as Anthony Castelo
  • Lou Albano as Frank Acavano
  • Julie Bovasso as Lil Dickstein
  • Patti LuPone as Wanda Valentini
  • Antonia Rey as Aunt Sadie
  • Mimi Cecchini as Grandma Valentini
  • Matthew Kaye as Harry Valentini Jr.
  • Tony Munafo as Santo Ravallo
  • Tony Rizzoli as Joey Siclione
  • Frank Vincent as Louie Fontucci
  • Rick Petrucelli as Al
  • Anthony Holland as Karl
  • Marcelino Rivera as Bellhop
  • Joseph Cipriano as Parking Valet
  • Julius Cristinzio as Roulette Operator
  • Dan Resin as Maitre D'
  • Alessandro Falcini as Priest
  • Jill Larson as Mrs Fixer
  • Maria Pitillo as Masseuse
  • Christine Poor as Masseuse
  • Stephanie Quinn as Masseuse
  • Cecilia I. Battaglini as Luggage Salesperson
  • Frank D. Formica as Pit Boss
  • Deborah Groen as Roulette Dealer
  • Bradley Neilson as Clothing Salesman
  • Maryellen Nugent as Jewellery Saleswoman
  • Frank Ferrara as Thug
  • Gaetano Lisi as Hood
  • Vince Pacimeo as Hood
  • Henry Stewart as Tailor
  • Carol Cass as Birthday Guest
  • Mary Engel as Birthday Guest
  • Bruce Katzman as Birthday Guest
  • Dayna Lee as Birthday Guest
  • Louisiana as Birthday Guest
  • Myles O'Connor as Birthday Guest
  • Don R. Richardson as Birthday Guest
  • Johnny George Sarno as Birthday Guest
  • Reuben Schafer as Birthday Guest
  • Catherine Scorsese as Birthday Guest
  • Charles Scorsese as Birthday Guest
  • Gary Cookson as Race Track Bettor
  • Kiya Ann Joyce as Race Track Bettor
  • Willow Hale as Race Track Bettor
  • Bob O'Connell as Race Track Bettor
  • Joe Schmieg as Race Track Bettor
  • Richardson Taylor as Race Track Bettor
  • Larry Guardino as Race Track Bettor
  • Kim Delgado as FBI Agent


A positive review came from The New York Times, with Walter Goodman calling it amusing and fresh before concluding that "Everything works."[1] Roger Ebert was similarly enthusiastic, giving the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and writing, "Wise Guys is an abundant movie, filled with ideas and gags and great characters. It never runs dry."[2] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded a perfect grade of four stars and raved, "Big laughs, foul language to the point of absurdity and one hilarious, screaming performance atop another combine to make 'Wise Guys' one of the funniest times you will have at the movies this year."[3] A negative review in Variety stated, "Gone are the flamboyant excesses that made a DePalma film instantly recognizable. What's left is a limp, visually dull look at limp, mentally dull people. Equally guilty is the cast of unfunny comics led by Joe Piscopo and Danny DeVito ... There is little chemistry between the two to suggest their supposed great friendship and more often than not they appear to be acting separately, each in a different film."[4] Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Directed by Brian De Palma with an uncharacteristic twinkle in his eye, the film offers such a likeable gallery of cement-heads that we're in no mood to carp about the movie's creaky storyline, belabored gags or meandering chase scenes."[5] Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post remarked, "There is plenty of dumb stuff in 'Wise Guys,' a rambunctious comedy about two screwballs on the loose, probably more than anyone should stand for. But the doughty will stick around for its small pleasures, most of which spring from the lens of Brian De Palma—yes, that Brian De Palma, the sanguinary scourge of women everywhere, who seems to have gotten into this as something of a lark."[6]

As of September 2019, the film has a 31% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[7]


Wise Guys was first released on VHS and Beta around 1986 by CBS/FOX Video. Wise Guys was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on August 30, 2005 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD and fairly recently as a DVD-on-demand from Warner Archive Collection available through Amazon.

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