Rob the Mob is the kind of movie that plays fast and loose with the true events that it’s based on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem here is that the film wavers between free-flowing comedic chaos and melodramatic poignancy—it’s much more successful with the former. The story takes place in the early ’90s, centering around Tommy and Rosie, played by Michael Pitt and the fiery Nina Arianda, a young couple from the Bronx who are trying to get their lives back together after Tommy is released from a stint in jail. Rosie gets him a job at a debt collection agency run by a hilarious Griffin Dunne, playing an ex-con who likes to give other ex-cons a second chance.
It’s not long before Tommy, captivated by the ongoing John Gotti trial, decides to start robbing Mafia social clubs across New York City. He gets the idea after wandering into the trial and hearing a mobster testifying about how guns are not allowed at these social clubs. He’s also motivated by a sense of revenge. Apparently, when Tommy was a boy, a mobster gunned down his father. This scene is replayed over and over in super-8 flashbacks every time Tommy visits the old neighborhood, as he lovingly caresses the sign outside his dad’s old flower shop. It’s a tired technique that is used so much in the film that it loses its effect after the third or fourth time, and one has to wonder why director Raymond De Felitta keeps going back to it.
The haphazard scenes where Tommy robs the social clubs are a joy to watch, as he proves himself a complete novice, nervously fidgeting his machine gun and ordering the aging mobsters to get undressed after giving him all their belongings. The chemistry throughout the film between Pitt and Arianda is engaging, which only makes the other stories going on that much less so.
Ray Romano is capably but oddly cast as a veteran Mafia reporter who discovers this Bronx “Bonnie and Clyde” and decides to write about them. They are so taken with their newfound fame and unwisely divulge personal details, dooming them to their inevitable fate. Andy Garcia plays an aging mob boss who is always one step ahead of the feds until one of Tommy’s robberies reveals some key information that will ultimately bring him down. The scenes with Garcia at his waterfront Brooklyn home are a complete shift in tone from the rest of the film, dour and Godfather-lite, and feel entirely out of place.
The real events upon which Rob The Mob is based are fascinating, a sort of Robin Hood/underdog/true crime story, but the constant shifting in tone renders this film version less than successful. Goodfellas, this is not, but then what is?
Jonah Flicker lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. and writes about travel, movies, music, food, drink and Iceland for a variety of publications. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.
Director: Raymond De Felitta
Writer: Jonathan Fernandez
Starring: Michael Pitt, Nina Arianda, Andy Garcia, Ray Romano
Release Date: Mar. 21, 2014