By Nikola Grozdanovic | The Playlist March 21, 2014 at 11:11AM
It feels like we haven't had a good mob movie in a long time. We're talking real Italian-style paisanos; tracksuits, wife-beaters, food metaphors, and grease everywhere. Raymond De Felitta may have been feeling the same kind of nostalgia in the air, because his new movie "Rob The Mob" plays out like a hundred dollar tip to the genre. Recent films that dealt with organized crime range from Academy Award nominees and winners ("American Hustle," "The Departed") to the wrongfully ignored ("Lawless," "Killing Them Softly") or ones that somehow went terribly off the rails ("Gangster Squad"); but none of those dealt with the mafia as we know it from the '90s classics like "Goodfellas," HBO's "The Sopranos" or "Donnie Brasco." Well, De Felitta takes a true story that occurred in the early '90s, adds two energized leads, a pinch of bearded Andy Garcia and a screenplay that goes down like cold ice-tea on a hot summer day to cook up a nice little homage to the good ol' days.
The film doesn't waste any time in making you want to follow Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rose (Nina Arianda) wherever their whimsical charms will take them. Blending romance and crime in the first two minutes, they are sitting in the car and looking at a flower shop across the street, one that Tommy plans to hold up. It's Valentines Day, and the exchange the two have becomes oddly romantic as soon as Rose tells Tommy she loves him. He freaks out, saying how that's bad luck and he's superstitious. Being high doesn't help. She screams back “ok, ok, I'm sorry”'s at him while he builds up the courage to walk into the store. Awkward and panicky, it's clear that Tommy doesn't like doing this. Superstitions be damned, he's still getting flowers for his girl on Valentines Day but when asked what he wants the card to say, he replies with “put the money in the bag” and does his thing. Badly. While getting out, the store owner shoots at him with a shotgun and the two lovebirds get caged.
It's Tommy who ends up serving for 18 months because Rose has connections that keeps her out of prison, but she waits for him and finds a job at a collections agency. The boss at this office (played by Griffin Dunne who is one of those actors you know you've seen before, like in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours") is one of the comedic highlights with his motivational seminars and giddiness over anything mob related. Everyone's talking about the mob because it's 1992 and John Gotti's trial is getting major media coverage. After Tommy gets out of prison, Rose gets him a job at this same collections agency, and the two start trying to turn the page and start a new, legal, chapter. Which lasts about a couple of paychecks. It's about now that we start getting a little deeper into Tommy's background and meet his younger brother and mother who have a legitimate flower shop business which they took over from Tommy's deceased father. With the guilty conscience of not being there for his mom and brother eating away at him, his piss poor financial situation, a mystery surrounding his father's death, the Gotti business in the papers and his proclivity for hold-ups; Tommy gets an idea. Robbing from the mob is a win-win situation. The mob won't call the cops, the cops wouldn't even care if they did and Tommy and Rose will walk away rich.
It's pretty amazing that a true story like this was just sitting on some shelf and never made it into a movie until now. Not that it's without flaws, but "Rob The Mob" is a pure delight because of the ease and familiarity that you find yourself in. Once Tommy and Rose start doing the hold ups and the mobsters start playing prominent parts, the movie has every excuse in the world to unspool all the stereotypes in the book and while it has fun with some of this, it never goes overboard. As far as stories go, it's refreshing to see that the attention rarely leaves the two leads because this is where the movie truly shines. Michael Pitt will remind you why Season 2 of "Boardwalk Empire" stung so bad after it finished because his Tommy has those same qualities that made you root for Jimmy, but with a bigger heart and a more innocent trigger finger. Pitt is fantastic, but Nina Arianda ends up robbing this movie from all of her male co-stars. Her Rose will remind you of Marisa Tomei's whiny and ditzy Mona from 1992's "My Cousin Vinny"— her reactions, engagement in conversations, excitement over the wrong things and sense of playfulness expand a part that would be easy to phone in. Ray Romano has an underdeveloped role as journalist Jerry Cardozo but he perfectly describes the two characters: “He's on his own planet and she could make a fortune working in a PR firm”
Andy Garcia who plays the big boss, is a sight for sore eyes and makes you crave rice balls like you've never craved them before, and some of the old mob faces are a comfort to see as well. Especially Burt Young who at 73 can still pack a punch and Joseph Gannascoli, who just shows up for a cameo, as if to remind us about "The Sopranos." Leaving the solid acting aside for a second, the screenplay from Jonathan Fernandez does end up reserving all three dimensions to its main leads and cutting out the rest from cardboard, while the rest of the film occasionally dips into sporadic comedic moments that spoil the otherwise natural laughs.
Although the montage sequences don't always work in the story's favor, and one dream sequence plays out wordlessly reaching none of effect it's aiming for, the final ten minutes is a very touching tribute to the real life couple Thomas Uva and Rose Marie De Toma. Pitt's and Arianda's chemistry works wonders to portray two reckless kids completely in love, regardless of how foolhardy they both end up being. Tommy's past is never dug into as much as we'd have liked to see, his mother and brother adding more to stereotypes and cliches than genuine moments, and a couple of scenes with the mob feel misplaced because they end up as dead ends. However, you'll still leave "Rob The Mob" with a smile and a warm feeling of having spent two pleasant hours looking back at the good ol' days of mob movies. Carefully balancing stereotypes with tasteful comedy, De Felitta has his three leads and a generally refreshing screenplay to thank for making "Rob The Mob" a joy to watch. [B+]