Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn: Film Review

Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn Film Still - H 2013

Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn Film Still - H 2013

This shamelessly derivative gangster movie doesn't repay its endless loans from Scorsese, Coppola, et al.

An ex-con reenters the mob world in Paul Borghese's crime saga.

The presence of Raging Bull’s Cathy Moriarty is hardly the only nod to Martin Scorsese in Paul Borghese’s shameless riff on gangster movie themes that comes across less as homage than exploitation. Depicting the troubled life of a young ex-con who chooses a life of crime over his respectable family business, Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn (even the title is a rip-off, this time of Sergio Leone, although it’s admittedly better than the original one, GOAT) barely qualifies as late-night cable television fodder.

Co-written by the director and lead actor William DeMeo, the story concerns Bobby Baldano, newly released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for armed robbery. Returning to the, ahem, mean streets of Brooklyn, he’s entreated by his father Joseph (Armand Assante) to join the family construction business, founded by Bobby’s grandfather decades earlier.

Since this scene occurs but a few minutes into the proceedings, it’s not hard to guess that Bobby foregoes the invitation, choosing instead to once again fatefully immerse himself in the gangster world which one shady character, who’s probably seen too many Mafia movies, describes as “this thing of ours.”

Featuring not one but two hard-boiled voiceover narrations and a convoluted narrative filled with more confusing plot twists and flashbacks than one can possibly keep track of, the overstuffed, amateurish film overlooks nary a single gangster movie staple, including the opera arias that underscore the more bloody scenes. The compendium of genre clichés on display extends into the casting of familiar faces like Bobby Costanzo, Tony Darrow and Vincent Pastore in supporting roles, as well as such actor-rappers as Ice-T and Ja Rule.

The sole interesting if familiar plot element, involving the clash of values between Bobby and his high-minded father, is barely explored, although Assante delivers a typically forceful performance as the stern paterfamilias.

Opens: Friday, May 3 (Lionsgate)
Production: West Street Productions, Tappan Films
Cast: William DeMeo, Armand Assante, Cathy Moriarty, Wass Stevens, Louis Vanaria, Paul Borghese, Elia Monte Brown, Bobby Costanzo, Ice-T, Ja Rule
Director: Paul Borghese
Screenwriters: William DeMeo, Paul Borghese
Producers: William DeMeo, Paul Borghese, Robyn K. Bennett
Executive producer: Bronson Arroyo
Director of photography: Christopher Walters
Editor: Ray Chung
Production designer: Uriah Herr
Costume designer: Sofija Mesicek
Composer: Neil Berg
Rated R, 116 min.