10TH & WOLFR
In terms of ambition, 10th & Wolf, inspired by actual mob wars in Philadelphia in the early '90s, is Godfather-lite. Its tale of badfellas battling one another and family demons while flirting with romance and redemption along the way makes this a respectable addition to the packed pantheon of watchable but all too familiar Mafia-themed movies. Ridden with as many clichés as bullets, the film nevertheless benefits from savvy casting, perhaps boasting the hippest lineup this side of Jim Jarmusch.
Writer-director Bobby Moresco (co-writer and producer of Oscar-honored indie smash Crash) makes a nice directorial debut, coaxing some delicious performances, even from an otherwise disposable cameo turn by Val Kilmer as an aging hippie mourning his son. Whether filmgoers can be lured away from the small screen for such fare remains to be seen.
Moresco grew up in New York's tough, mob-infested Hell's Kitchen, and these roots show up in 10th & Wolf to both good and bad effect. On the positive side, Moresco has an assured grip on his unmoored bums and their grubby habits, seedy hangouts, lowlife ladies and amoral modus operandi. But cliché piles upon cliché, and there's the Philly thing: Except for those occasional hills in the background, Pittsburgh stands in well for Philadelphia, yet the dees/dems/dos-embracing actors forsake the Philly accents that should be essential to their characters. A quibble, maybe, but Mystic River bubbled with Beantown accents that assured its authentic flavor.
10th & Wolf offers an oft-told gangster story that at first overwhelms with so many characters and so much violent backstory, including the early-'80s murder of mob boss Matello (Dennis Hopper), whose realm years later becomes the film's main battleground. Flash-forward to the early '90s, as Tommy (James Marsden), a trouble-prone but otherwise decent guy, joins the Marines in order to escape the kind of life his mobster dad led. After a tour of duty in Kuwait and a run-in with military authority, Tommy is plucked from confinement by FBI agent Horvath (Brian Dennehy), who offers the disgraced soldier a deal: He'll get back on civi-street if he helps the Feds bust a drug ring in Tommy's old Philly neighborhood of 10th and Wolf.
After Tommy reluctantly agrees to the infiltration, the wiring and the ratting, he reconnects with adoring brother Vincent (Brad Renfro), who bartends for loose-cannon cousin Joey (Giovanni Ribisi), who runs a strip joint and other Matello businesses that have earned him a posh Philly condo. Joey and his crew, including ultra-violent cokehead Junior (Dash Mihok), are being squeezed by some Sicilian mobsters who operate a big heroin ring out of a meatpacking plant. The Sicilians, headed by Reggio (Francesco Salvi), want a piece of Joey's business and Fed agent Horvath wants Tommy to nail the Sicilians. He orders a wired Tommy into the fray to get him the evidence he needs.
Before the final shootout and the little coda that reminds us that even the good guys in these films aren't good, there are detours to a little romance as Tommy and young widow Brandy (Piper Perabo) connect and to operatic angst as Joey learns that party-girl mom Tina (Lesley Ann Warren) cheated on his father.
Little redeems here except memorable performances from both Ribisi and Warren, who seem born to their roles and help the time pass. The film certainly doesn't break any new ground, but filmgoers who like this kind of gangster terrain will feel at home.