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The creators of Brooklyn Rules abided largely by only one: If anything mob-related was popular enough to become cliché, it was good enough for their movie. The film opens in a church as the main character narrates, talking about his boyhood in the titular borough and how it affected him and his two best buds as they grew up. Fast-forward to 1985, when one’s working in a butcher shop and going to college, one’s a bumbling, directionless innocent, and one’s flirting with the local family. Cue conversations about whether being feared is the same as being respected, as well as plenty of whatsamatta-you banter full of “da”s, “foockin’ ”s, and “douchebag”s.
Alarmingly, this amateurish story was written by Terence Winter, a veteran Sopranos scribe—apparently he’s saved his first-draft scraps for the big screen. Alec Baldwin is billed as a star, but his slightly over-the-top yet effective turn as the boss, Caesar, is minor—the kids are allowed to run the show. Freddie Prinze Jr. is Michael, the cartoonishly accented, responsible lead character who’s studying pre-law and adjusts his personality for his WASPy classmates and Brooklyn friends accordingly. Michael has big dreams but tries to keep his lives separate, confessing in voice-over that “in my neighborhood, it was better to keep ambitions like water polo to yourself” and acting reluctant when his buddies want to accompany him to a party in the city for Ellen (Mena Suvari), a fellow student Michael’s trying to date. (For good reason: The mixing doesn’t go so well.)
Meanwhile, baby-faced Bobby (Jerry Ferrara) is religious and good-natured, wanting nothing more than to start working for the post office so he and his squeeze can settle down. Carmine (Ocean’s Thirteen’s Scott Caan) is the troublemaker: Smart but vain—both about his looks and in feeling indestructible—he begins doing small jobs for Caesar, seeing it as the only agreeable way to make a good living in his ’hood. He dismisses Michael’s concerns. Of course, trouble is waiting, and Carmine’s antics start to involve his two friends as well.
The three young actors do have a likable presence onscreen, but Michael Corrente directs them to extreme Brooklyn-isms—such as those awful accents—that make the work at times skirt parody. The film is interesting mostly when it integrates the real-life rise of John Gotti with Carmine’s story, and its inevitable tragedy is heartbreaking, even if you see it coming from practically the start. But like the mob life, none of its perks is enough to make Brooklyn Rules worthwhile.