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May 18, 2007 |

By John Williams | Film | May 18, 2007 |

Dear filmmakers, I’m convinced of something: If someone is narrating your movie, you don’t have a good enough script. And if Freddie Prinze, Jr., is narrating, you don’t have a good enough casting director. There must be classic exceptions that I’m forgetting, but every recent movie that heavily features one of its characters as a narrator has been a dud, and Brooklyn Rules is no exception.

Gangster movies are like coming-of-age novels — there are an awful lot of them, so if you feel it’s necessary to create another, you better be sure you have something to say. Brooklyn Rules doubles its degree of difficulty by embedding a mafia tale within a sentimental coming-of-age story, and the movie falls well short of earning a place in either genre’s canon.

Prinze plays Michael, an aspiring smart kid from Brooklyn who matriculates at Columbia in the mid-1980s while his peers in the borough apply for jobs at the post office and crack each other’s heads open. His two closest friends are the sweet, dumb Bobby (Jerry Ferrara, “Turtle” from “Entourage”) and the musclebound, impulsive Carmine (Scott Caan, whose father is gangster-movie royalty James).

The movie centers on the trio’s deep bond, and in many ways it has the look and feel of a weaker Diner. The buddies constantly trade vulgar, simple insults, the kind that certain young men use in order to express their love — Michael gets razzed for his brains, Bobby for his cheapness, and Carmine for his vanity. Unfortunately, the gibes aren’t polished up for the screen and their dullness doesn’t get points for realism; it just adds to the tedium.

The group’s untested routine existence is threatened when Carmine starts cozying up to local wise guys. Brooklyn Rules offers the significant lure of Alec Baldwin, who plays Caesar, the neighborhood’s mafia bigwig. But his riveting performance is made up of a few brief scenes, and is more than canceled out by riveting’s antonym, Prinze, who more accurately represents what the wooden script deserves.

Scenes involving the mob are just interruptions to the primary plot, Michael’s struggle to straddle two worlds. It’s a formulaic struggle, including its intensification through romance, when he falls for fellow Ivy Leaguer Ellen (Mena Suvari). But if you want a story about class tension and romance in New York that evokes a particular era, rent Saturday Night Fever, whose leading couple has something resembling chemistry. In order for chemistry to exist between entities, both have to be made up of organic material, and I’m still not convinced this is the case with Freddie Prinze, Jr.

There are some effective moments in Brooklyn Rules — including a funny scene in which Bobby negotiates the price of an engagement ring and a climactic, more dramatic scene also involving Bobby — but overall it lacks the spirit and intelligence that would be needed to revitalize its truly ancient themes. The movie’s inspirations are mostly honorable ones, so it’s easy to view it with mild regret more than the derision its worst scenes warrant, but the uninspired narration is its one unforgivable sin. Over one random, shaky shot of the city’s bridges, Michael helpfully tells us, “As much as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about what Ellen said.” That makes one of us.


Brooklyn Rules / John Williams

Film | May 18, 2007 |

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