Thursday, April 3, 2014

'Rob the Mob,' an entertaining heist

The story of two robbers who can't read the danger signs.
Rob the Mob may not be a classic, but it's made enjoyable by a bizarre, reality-based story that focuses on two characters too dopey to understand that they've put themselves in danger; i.e., they think robbing Mafia hangouts will be a breeze.

Why worry? Can Mafia guys call the cops?

Director Raymond De Felitta had a minor hit with City Island. Less of a crowd pleaser (but more entertaining for my money), Rob the Mob offers a comic immersion in the small-change world of Queens, N.Y., during the 1990s.

When I first saw American Hustle, I didn't think I'd ever see a performance with as much New York bravado as Jennifer Lawrence's. I was wrong.

Nina Arianda's performance as Rosie Uva is almost as funny and so full of sass, it's irresistible.

Known mostly for stage work, Arianda plays a woman who works for a debt collection agency and who joins with her ex-con boyfriend Tommy (an equally good Michael Pitt) in conducting a series of ill-advised robberies of the social clubs at which mobsters spend their idle hours.

Rosie drives the getaway car, and Tommy barges into clubs wielding an Uzi he barely knows how to use.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of the trial in which mob boss John Gotti is about to be convicted of murder, and in which New York gangsters are taking a major hit from law enforcement.

Pitt and Arianda receive able support from Andy Garcia (as a mob boss), Ray Romano (as a New York newspaper columnist), as well as from Burt Young, Frank Whaley, Cathy Moriarty, Michael Rispoli and Griffin Dunne.

You won't find a bad performance in the lot: Rob the Mob is one of those movies that feels as if everyone embraced the project with enthusiasm and love.

Working from a script by Jonathan Fernandez, De Felitta gives his movie a beating tabloid heart. We're won over by the genial stupidity (and innocence) of some of the characters, by the true love between Rosie and Tommy and by unexpected sentiment, some of it stemming from Garcia's Big Al, a mob boss who once made his living cooking rice balls (actually, risotto). In a tender scene, Big Al encourages his grandson to avoid the pain of gangster life.

Rob the Mob -- a story of doomed lovers -- may have difficulty finding a niche when pitted against some A-line competition, but this small gem of a movie about feckless denizens of a small-time world shouldn't be missed -- either now or when it finds its way to DVD.

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