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Few films are better titled than The Wannabe, a portrait of a Bronx kid who would have done anything to be part of the mob world he knew from the movies. Writer/director Nick Sandow finds a tailor-made lead in Vincent Piazza, who both looks the part and makes sense of his character’s ridiculous aspirations; with Patricia Arquette playing the girlfriend who stood by his side, the picture of debased ambition is almost too convincing to enjoy. Exec-producer Martin Scorsese‘s name will open some doors for this period crime film set in 1992, though moviegoers shouldn’t expect the crackle of a Scorsese picture. This sourer tale has a much more limited box-office appeal, no matter how credible its vision.
Piazza plays an inspired-by-life character named Thomas, who at the outset looks like the kind of hustler who might actually get his dream of working for Gambino family boss John Gotti. Wearing a pompadour, thin moustache and crisp suits, he hangs out wherever gangsters gather and wages a one-man propaganda campaign against Sammy Gravano, the turncoat testifying in the godfather’s trial.
Thomas meets Rose (Arquette) at a street fair in Gotti’s Queens neighborhood while trying to catch a glimpse of the man. They’re an instant couple, and though Arquette’s eyes sometimes reveal that Rose knows Thomas’s plans are dicey, she backs him up at every step — even doubling down in crucial scenes, with a nerviness that recalls the romantic crime spree in True Romance.
A crime spree does lay ahead, but mostly the pair gets caught up in schemes that seem promising to them (like an attempt to rig the jury at Gotti’s trial, thereby winning his favor) but lead to humiliation. As he clings to these hopes and builds up a personal grudge against Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels founder who spoke out loudly against Gotti, Thomas comes to look more and more like King of Comedy‘s Rupert Pupkin. But Sandow has too much sympathy for his hero to play his downfall for laughs; instead, the film slows down into a druggy stupor for its closing scenes, pointing its outer-borough Bonnie and Clyde toward an end no one would describe as a blaze of glory.
Production companies: Electric Entertainment, Traction Media
Cast: Vincent Piazza, Patricia Arquette, Michael Imperioli, Vincenzo Amato, Doug E. Doug, Domenick Lombardozzi
Director-Screenwriter: Nick Sandow
Producers: Lizzie Nastro, Michael Gasparro, Vincent Piazza
Executive producers: Dean Devlin, Rick Genow, Maren Olson, Martin Scorsese, Douglas R. Stone
Director of photography: Brett Pawlak
Production designer: Tommaso Ortino
Costume designer: Ciera Wells
Editor: Melody London
Music: Nathan Larson
Casting directors: Rebecca Dealy, Jessica Kelly
Sales: Traction Media, Electric Entertainment
No rating, 90 minutes
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