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IN SHORT: Mobster wannabees for the arthouse. A good sit. [Rated R for violence, pervasive language and some sexual content. 99 minutes]
We have spent years deriding pretentious, self-important and otherwise worthless pieces of crap fit only for film festivals where other wannabe film makers cheer for fellow losers who actually got enough money raised to shoot their junk. Year after year we look for the few films that are well written and acted and interesting to watch, even for us bozos who don't wait anxiously for the arthouse box office to open.
Here is this year's winner.
Kings County, New York sits next to Queens County and both sit in the shadow of New York County. Residents of each county are about as different as you can get and Kings, better known as Brooklyn is a world unto itself. Until it merged with New York a hundred or so years back, Brooklyn was the second largest city in the country. Those born there (like Cranky) or residing there (the point of this film) carry the mark of Brooklyn-ite proudly. There are tight communities within the boundaries of the county and the film Brooklyn Rules focuses on the Italian community, specifically three boys and their move into manhood. Yeah, coming of age movies seem to be a dime a dozen, but this one benefits from fine acting and characterizations, the biggest surprise being the maturation of one Freddie Prinze Jr. That's right, they guy who used to be in every film made for the younger demo a couple of years ago (just as Michael Caine did every film for the oldsters). Freddie's appearance used to be, sorry to say. a joke. Not any more.
Brooklyn Rules is not a movie about bonding, though a preface set in the mid seventies introduces us to Michael, Bobby and Carmine who find a dead body in a car. Given the conceit that dead bodies are an everyday phenomena in a mafia run environment, the boys strip the find of its worth. One takes the gun. One takes a puppy found in a dog carrier in the back seat. One says its time to take off. Move on ten years to that difficult period when long term buddies reach the point in their lives where those bonds start to break just as a matter of course.
The film is narrated throughout by Michael Turner (Freddie Prinze Jr) who, for reasons even he doesn't understand, has scammed his way into Columbia University with an eye set on post-graduate law school. It is Michael who wants out of Brooklyn even as he goes back each day to work his job at the local butcher. Michael's best buds haven't changed much since kid-hood. The studly Carmine (Scott Caan) has no problem bedding a different girl every night of the week. His clothes are off the cover of GQ Magazine. His hair, as the song goes, is perfect. Carmine has perfected his moves and looks in deference to the local mafia godfather, appropriately named Caesar (Alec Baldwin). One day, Carmine hopes to be a made man, a perfect fantasy based more on watching Godfather movies and seeing surface flash than experiencing the reality of mob rule. That view will change by movie's end. Finally, there is Bobby (Jerry Ferrara), the best friend you could ever have and the cheapest goomba on the block. Bobby has known the run of his life forever. Civil Service job in the Post Office -- "It's Federal. They can't fire you." -- and marriage to his girlfriend of many years, Amy.
In the wider world of the University, Michael hits on a preppy (meaning "rich") girl called Ellen (Mena Suvari) who is more intrigued with his approach than anything else and invites him to her birthday party that weekend. Michael brings Bobby and Carmine along and, in the doorman ruled world of Manhattan, the latter gents don't live up to the club dress code and are forbidden entrance to the party. Bobby does his best to sneak 'em in, but they split instead. So the bonds begin to break. We could make a crack about women having that effect but we won't, and neither does the film. Michael brings Ellen back into his world and it is just about this time that he comes face to face with the brutality of Caesar's rule. Brutal with a capital "B" but also a moment which endears Michael to Caesar. That's a good thing, until it isn't. What Michael learns from this lesson is that mobsters are crazy nuts out of their skulls. When, while out to dinner at a crowded restaurant, one of their party (rightly) insults a made psycho, events spin out of control. That's all you have to know.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Brooklyn Rules, he would have paid . . .
Brooklyn Rules will stay in the art house and it will shine
in that setting. We've already complimented Prinze but it should be noted
that Caan and Ferrara hold their own with equal fire.
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