Film Review: Rob the Mob

Flavorful, very funny recounting of an unlikely but crucial episode in Mob history.

It's 1991, and small-time crooks Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rosie (Nina Arianda), both of them with jail records, have decided to go straight working for a collection agency. Tommy, however, finds something more interesting to skip work for: the trial of mafioso John Gotti. There, he hears about a gangland social club which does not allow guns and, burning with a desire for a bigger score in life, as well as the memory of a beat-down his father once suffered from the Mob, he decides to rob the joint. Despite his total inexperience with an Uzi, he carries it off, and thus begins a series of gangster-hangout heists, with Rosie in the getaway driver's seat. They become known as the new Bonnie and Clyde, a particular obsession of veteran reporter Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano), who makes them media darlings.

Their antics prove highly irritating to the gang world, but boss-man Big Al Fiorello (Andy Garcia) goes easy on them, telling his enraged henchmen that "eagles don't kill flies." But, after a robbery, when Tommy discovers a scrap of paper in a wallet identifying the entire underworld clan and their connections to one another, the stakes rise, for this is the smoking gun the Feds need to bust New York's crime syndicate.

Director Raymond De Felitta, working from a strong, vivid script by Jonathan Fernandez, finds the perfect mordant comic tone with which to tell this improbable but true story. From the scruffily thuggish central couple, alternately bickering and loving at the top of their Noo Yawk lungs, to the puckish drones at the collection agency to an entire gallery of colorful mobsters, he has populated Rob the Mob with a wealth of characters at once accurate and sidesplittingly funny. Directorially, he has a confidently flashy style, Scorsese-derived, which serves the material well, with its glancing flashbacks to incidents in Tommy's past and the heists which are set-pieces of shaggy, well-timed farce. (Carlos Menendez's production design is so convincing—those hideous, cheaply paneled "wood" walls and futile attempts at décor—you might almost think real social clubs were used here.)

The film's few really serious moments register as well, like the scenes involving Tommy's tough, unforgiving mother (Cathy Moriarty, considerably and effectively weathered since Raging Bull), and De Felitta manages to make the central romance nearly as affecting as that between Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney in the greatest of all Bonnie and Clyde-themed films, You Only Live Once. Things may get a tad too easily elegiac towards the inevitable, gloomy ending, but the viewer's good will remains intact.

Pitt and Arianda make a scrappily charismatic pair of larcenous lovers. Pitt retains his ripe-lipped, sensuous handsomeness which, along with his loutish/sensitive quality as a ne'er-do-well family outcast, is somewhat remindful of the very young Brando. (His gift for physical comedy evinces itself with his sheer ineptitude with a gun, which makes his first heist scene explosively hilarious.) Arianda, who has dazzled Broadway audiences in Born Yesterday and especially Venus in Fur, is also very funny, bringing a perfectly gauged, honking street accuracy to Rosie, especially in her scenes in the collection agency, which have a loose, improvised feel. De Felitta must have a fecund circle of personal professional friends, or at least made sure this script got some healthy circulation, for the film is stocked with an impressive bunch of names, all obviously eager to play these good-fellas and weisenheimers. Besides the aforementioned actors, the cast includes the always welcome Michael Rispoli, Frank Whaley, Aida Turturro and Griffin Dunne, giving his most appealing screen performance as Rosie's goofy boss, who also plays hooky from work and is even more thrilled than Tommy to see types like Sammy "The Bull" Gravano take the stand. Burt Young lends further veteran and truly smile-inducing authenticity as the hapless but pitbull-mean possessor of that crucial piece of paper.