May 24, 2007

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Brooklyn Rules (R)
Alec Baldwin takes time out of his busy being-weird schedule to meander through Brooklyn Rules, a gangster coming-of-age movie in which Baldwin is by far the most entertaining thing.

Though, really, when isn’t Baldwin the most entertaining? He’s the best thing about 30 Rock, that one episode of The View and current celebrity stupid-scandal news. So it makes sense that even in an amateurish venture such as this, he’d be a joy to behold.

Sadly, Brooklyn Rules is mostly not about him. Mostly, the movie follows Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr.), who also relentlessly narrates the story, and his two childhood buddies, the vain, Mafia-obsessed Carmine (Scott Caan) and the daft but loveable Bobby (Jerry Ferrara). It’s the mid-1980s, the age of John Gotti, the movie tells us (though he and his doings figure into the story just barely) and Carmine has dipped a toe in the pool of organized crime through a friendship with Cesar (Baldwin), one of the local made men. Bobby wants nothing more than to be a post officer and marry his sweetheart, and Michael, a Columbia University student and a law school hopeful, is headed out of the neighborhood. But Carmine’s peripheral involvement in crime and the trio’s water-tight friendship means that Bobby and Michael risk being dragged into the world of made men and sit-downs, too.

If you give the benefit of the doubt and reach hard and long, you can also find a little examination of class. Michael might love his buddies but he is also caught between two worlds, a point underlined by his friendship with rich girl Ellen (Mena Suvari).

If this movie sounds at all interesting to you, allow me to recommend instead that to check out the 1993 movie A Bronx Tale written by Chazz Palminteri and directed by Robert De Niro. It’s no The Godfather — or even up to the level of one of the medium-strength episodes of The Sopranos — but that movie covers similar ground about growing up in a mob-fearing Italian neighborhood and how a young boy’s brush with crime shapes his life. Brooklyn Rules is what that movie would be like if it were rewritten by The Sopranos’ Christopher Moltisanti with his Cleaver/introduction-to-screenwriting aesthetic and if it starred, well, starred Freddie Prinze Jr. and Scott Caan. The accents are too goofing-on-Goodfellas and the dialogue is thick with hammy lines about “da neighborhood” that haven’t sounded original for years.

The real killer of Brooklyn Rules, however, is the constant narration. It is as though the movie was originally 10 hours long and was cut down so severely that the bulk of the story had to be told to us directly (that eight hours, apparently, featured no action because, although the narration is ever-present, it doesn’t actually say all that much). You less watch Brooklyn Rules than hear it, like a brutal bedtime story read to you by a Joe Pesci impersonator. C-

Rated R for violence, pervasive language and some sexual content. Directed by Michael Corrente and written by Terence Winter, Brooklyn Rules is an hour and 39 minutes long (most of it narration) and is distributed in limited release by City Lights Pictures.