'Friends and Romans': Film Review

Courtesy of Vered Rodriguez
The film's main fun comes from playing spot the 'Sopranos' veterans.

Michael Rispoli plays an aspiring Italian-American actor who decides to stage his own production of "Julius Caesar" in this stereotype-kidding comedy.

Gleefully exploiting Italian-American stereotypes even while ostensibly decrying them, Friends and Romans wants to have it both ways. Lampooning the popular image of Italians as obsessives of The Godfather who can quote such lines as "Leave the gun, take the cannoli" at the drop of the hat, this comic tale of an aspiring actor staging an amateur production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar seems mainly designed to provide employment to as many alumni of The Sopranos as possible … in this case, no fewer than eight.

Michael Rispoli, who played Jackie Aprile in that classic television drama, stars (and collaborated on the screenplay) as Nick DeMaio, a good-natured Staten Island fruit and vegetable delivery truck driver who moonlights as an actor. Having appeared in such non-speaking roles as "Gangster No. 3" in films like The Godfather Part III, Goodfellas and Mickey Blue Eyes (and The Sopranos, naturally), he fumbles his audition for a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by trotting out his tired Marlon Brando impression.

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Discussing the play with a fellow actor, Nick says that it's about "two Jewish guys who get whacked," in one of the funnier lines of the otherwise cliche-ridden screenplay.

To jump start his lagging thespian career, Nick decides to round up several of his fellow Italian-American acting colleagues who are similarly bedeviled by typecasting, and to rent a local theater for his own production of Shakespeare's classic, his favorite thanks to Brando's starring role in the film version. Among those who snag roles are a local theater-obsessed crime boss (Anthony DeSando) suspected by the Feds of having killed a Broadway producer. Convinced that the production is a front for illegal activities, they send in an undercover agent (Charlie Semine) to infiltrate the show.

Further adding to the non-hilarity is a subplot about Nick's daughter Gina (Katie Stevens) landing a part in her high school production of Guys and Dolls, directed by a foppish drama teacher who cast her because he thinks her father is an actual Mafioso.

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Featuring such familiar Sopranos faces as Tony Sirico, Tony Darrow and Annabella Sciorra in the thankless role of Nick's supportive wife, Friends and Romans thinks that it's belying Italian-American stereotypes by having Nick and his family dine on Chinese takeout instead of spaghetti and meatballs. Striving for a Noises Off-level of backstage farce, it merely indulges in tired tropes, with only Rispoli's laid-back charm preventing it from being truly offensive.

Production: Michael Mailer Films
Cast: Michael Rispoli, Annabella Sciorra, Paul Ben-Victor, Katie Stevens, Tony Darrow, Anthony DeSando, Tony Sirico
Director: Christopher Kublan
Screenwriters: Gregg Greenberg, Christopher Kublan, Michael Rispoli
Producer: Michael Mailer
Executive producers: Gregg Greenberg, Alan Helene Michael Rispoli, Martin Tuchman
Director of photography: Austin F. Schmidt
Production designer: Nadya Gurevich
Editor: David Leonard
Costume designer: Michael Bevins
Composer: Aaron Mirman
Casting: Caroline Sinclair

Not rated, 88 minutes

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