Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rob the Mob (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Rob the Mob

Films about the mafia have been done to death, as countless as rounds from an automatic weapon. There have been kingpins of every strata , stripe and fashion, although it is usually of the linen, seersucker or sharkskin variety.

We have seen many faces of granite from Al Capone and Vito Corleone, to Tony Montana, Henry Hill, Jimmie Burke and multiple others.

With such a dizzying cast of characters (both real and imagined) it is easy to feel cinematically stuffed and over-stimulated.

Despite this satiation, there is reason to crave still more with Raymond De Felitta's (City Island) refreshing "Rob the Mob" about a young Bonnie & Clyde couple who robbed from organized crime clubs in the early 1990s.

Director De Felitta, a jazz pianist, starts this story with an impressionistic flair. We see a dirty and rumbling city covered with spastic graffiti as subway cars bend and roll through the boroughs. The police flash their sirens and wave their nightsticks as a famous Deelite song "Groove Is in the Heart" plays. Rather than formidable and grim, De Felitta's tone is playful, upbeat and quaint, even cozy.

Giuliani should be so lucky.

Tommy Uva (Michael Pitt, Funny Games) scampers across town robbing neighborhood flower shops. Each time he is chagrined when girlfriend Rosie (Nina Arianda) tells Tommy she loves him. It's bad luck.

Tommy and Rosie go to jail but months later they get released with Rosie getting a job at a collection agency. She has adequate success, and even more, by coquettishly flirting with smarmy boss (Griffin Dunne).

But all is not well in Queens.

 Tommy has a chip on his shoulder. He is as restless as a rat without refuse to chew. He replays episodes of the past in his mind where the mafia abuses his father, now deceased.

After dropping in on the John Gotti trial and learning that their caf├ęs don't carry heat, Tommy gets an idea that blinds like neon: why not burglarize the mob?

He convinces Rosie, puts an Uzi in the freezer and gets to work.

With a hoodie and a single automatic, he enters these one room hovels, little more than coffee shops and the groups are caught unawares.

The surprise here, is that these gangsters are shown as mere men. There is nothing intimidating about them. There are no steel toed shoes, no Armani suits, no fish-eyed looks or brass knuckles. These men are often unkempt, sleepy or distracted. In the intimacy of these lounges, all of these men are someone's kindly grandfather or uncle. You won't find any Scorsese intimidation here. The wise guys are caught without their packages and we see the humility of their humanness---a rare thing in gangster films.

Tommy empties the drawers (and the pants) of each made man, manages to get away and experiences a stronger surge of endorphins with every encounter.

Reporter Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano) gets a tip about the couple and begins to write. Rosie gets intoxicated by fame and agrees to an interview. The two turn Queens, New York silver with talk.

Such gossip would rival Warhol.

There are some deft touches here such as family head Big Al (Andy Garcia) fingerpainting messages in his marinara sauce. Or a shaky octogenarian hand desperately reaching for the weapon---all too late.

But the highlight is Nina Arianda who plays Rosie as an infectious quasi pop-art Betty Boop, yet she is completely authentic. Michael Pitt is also rock solid as the edgy Tommy who has a magnetic charge and some punkish discontent reminiscent of a young Robert Blake but free of imitation.

The most eerie poetry in the "Rob the Mob" is saved for last, as Rosie and Tommy caress like big shots in Gotham City. They pop champagne and smoke stogies, verbally eschewing The Gottis while clearly simulating them. The grilled Italian sausages that sizzle and dance along with the gated mansions that stand impassive and imposing are both monuments to a time of a city long absent and funereal vaults that foretell and seal these naive lovers' fate.

Write Ian at

No comments: