Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Rob the Mob" again, as Nick Sandow's grittier and uglier version, THE WANNABE, opens

One of TrustMovies favorite films of last year was Raymond DeFelitta's enchanting true-life crime tale, Rob the Mob (my review is here). What a surprise, then, to encounter another, different version of the same story in this week's opener, THE WANNABE. The copyright date shown at the end of the end credits for this "new" film lists 2013, which does lead one to wonder: Why was not The Wannabe released prior to Rob the Mob? Did star Patricia Arquette's "Oscar" win this past year have anything to do with why we're suddenly seeing the film in theaters? Or maybe it's because of the fact that another "Oscar" winner, Martin Scorsese, is one of its executive producers, with his name prominently displayed on the movie's poster. Whatever. Here it is, comin' atcha, and hey, it's not a bad film at all.

Unfortunately, it is also not nearly as good nor as entertaining as the DeFelitta version, though it is every bit as well-acted. Writer/director Nick Sandow (shown at left and probably best known at this point for his role as prison-warden-wannabe in Orange Is the New Black) is clearly more interested in the darker side of this tale and its two leading characters, a younger man (the wannabe of the title, very well-limbed by Vincent Piazza) and his older woman girlfriend, played with ever-increasing flair and determination by a very believable and ultra-fiery Ms Arquette (shown below).

The Wannabe begins well and hold its own for some time, as we learn about and actually grow to like these two clearly damaged people. Just how damaged (and by what) will come clear a bit later. For now, it's enough that Piazza's Thomas (below) is in thrall to mobster John Gotti, while Arquette's Rose is clearly smitten with this strange young man who quickly falls in love with his "dynamite" woman.

The two movies follow very similar courses -- we meet Thomas' brother (Michael Imperioli) who owns a florist shop, and look in on the job Rose find the kid with the company she works for and whose boss (John Ventimiglia) is a good guy willing to give Thomas, a parolee, a decent opportunity. Then come the mafia club robberies, which grow crazier and crazier until....

The difference resides in the tone and attitude of the filmmakers: De Felitta opts for charm and caring (as is usually his wont) over the darkness explored by Sandow. There's nothing wrong with darkness, mind you, but when it begins to grow repetitive and finally tiresome, we crave more.

Yet the performances from everyone on view are just fine, with Arquette the standout, and Piazza not far behind. She captures the thrill of a return to youth, while he nails the loser/wannabe side of his character while still managing to make believable the fact that this woman, with her many problems, could still fall hard for the likes of him. Piazza's acting embarrasses us at times -- but in the manner that only a genuinely believable performance can carry off. The kid is that good.

The handheld camera work is first-rate, tossing us into the middle of things and making them just as sad and ugly as they probably are; the dialog seems as accurate as you could want; and the movie even posits a nifty theory of just who it was that tried to kill Curtis Sliwa, due to this "commentator's" constant anti-Gotti heckling.

The Wannabe -- running a relatively swift first 60 minutes before bogging down some for its final 30 -- opens this Friday, December 4, in New York City at the AMC Empire 25 and in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood. 

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