Brooklyn Rules

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Screenwriter Terence Winter (a major contributor to "The Sopranos") and director Michael Corrente ("Federal Hill," "American Buffalo") have impressive credits in spinning tough-guy tales, but they fail to freshen "Brooklyn Rules," a shopworn nostalgia piece set mainly in the 1980s. The film that showcases a group of likable young actors, along with veteran Alec Baldwin, has been sitting on the shelf for more than a year and doesn't seem likely to set the boxoffice on fire when it finally opens in theaters.

The story begins with a prologue in 1974 that introduces three young boys who will become lifelong friends. They grow up to be Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a Columbia student; Carmine (Scott Caan), who aspires to join the local mob; and Bobby (Jerry Ferrara), their loyal, slightly goofy crony. The episodic tale meanders through romances, including Michael's flirtation with an upper-class coed (Mena Suvari), dangerous Mafia adventures and comic escapades. No sense of urgency drives the narrative, which eventually resolves itself during a gang war that shakes the neighborhood.

Too many other movies have traveled similar turf. The film particularly recalls a similar coming-of-age tale released just last year, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints." (That one was set in Queens instead of Brooklyn.) "Saints," a Sundance prize winner, boasted sharp, pungent writing, but it didn't have enough novelty to capture an audience. The writing in "Brooklyn" seems even more generic. An excessive use of voice-over narration is a sure sign of a failure of dramatization. There are sharp touches but not enough to revitalize the overly familiar rituals among tough kids growing up in a working-class community.

Fortunately, some of the performances compensate for insights missing from the script. As usual, Baldwin has the right sleazy charisma as the Mafia captain who dominates the boys' world. Caan brings just the right mixture of bravado and sweetness to his portrayal of the aspiring wiseguy Carmine, whose cockiness is sometimes undermined by the effete outfits he imagines are hip. "Entourage's" Ferrara is enormously winning as Bobby, a movie buff and cheapskate with a big heart. Although Prinze cuts a handsome figure, he doesn't seem to inhabit the role as comfortably as his co-stars; you're too conscious of his acting. And Suvari is completely wasted in the thankless role of a pretty appendage.

A couple of effective violent moments near the end supply a burst of energy that the rest of the film badly needs. "Brooklyn" is well shot and benefits from a shrewd selection of period songs, including a clever use of "New York, New York" that is abruptly shut off when the guys realize they have been conned into buying counterfeit tickets to a Sinatra concert. In the end the film is innocuous enough, but it evaporates more quickly than that truncated Sinatra track.

BROOKLYN RULES
City Lights Pictures
Eagle Beach Prods. and Straight Up Films
in association with Southpaw Entertainment and Cataland Films
Credits:
Director: Michael Corrente
Screenwriter: Terence Winter
Producers: Michael Corrente, Marisa Polvino, Richard B. Lewis
Executive producers: Rachel Rothman, Billy Heinzerling, Steven Bowman, Stewart F. Lane, Bonnie Comley, Terence Winter, Darren Manelski, Akiva Goldsman
Director of photography: Richard P. Crudo
Production designer: Bob Shaw
Music: Benny Rietveld
Co-producer: Richard Perello
Costume designer: Juliet Polsca
Editor: Kate Sanford
Cast:
Michael Turner: Freddie Prinze Jr.
Carmine Mancuso: Scott Caan
Bobby Canzoneri: Jerry Ferrara
Caesar Manganaro: Alec Baldwin
Ellen: Mena Suvari
Philly: Chris Caldovino
Amy: Monica Keena
Mr. Canzoneri: Robert Turano
Mrs. Canzoneri: Phyllis Kay
Running time -- 99 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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