Review: Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn

William DeMeo is Bobby Baldano, fresh out of the joint after a long stint for armed robbery, and now hoping to go back to his bad old ways, rather than do the smart thing and work for his father (Armand Assante), a proud man who has his own construction business. Nope, DeMeo breaks the heart of his father and mother (Cathy Moriarty) when he instead hooks up with the mobsters he was working for before he got thrown in the slammer. It’s a decision he may soon regret. Ice-T plays a friendly rival gangster, with Ja Rule appropriately cast as a gangsta rapper, whilst Paul Borghese plays the FBI man hoping to nab him some criminal bigwigs.

Writer-director Paul Borghese and co-writer/star William DeMeo are big fans of Scorsese’s gangster movies. They’ve seen them all, and probably a couple of Sergio Leone movies too, judging by the title. It’s evident in almost every frame of this 2013 crime flick that these guys have hard-ons for “Goodfellas”, “Casino”, and “Mean Streets”. Also evident? Neither guy is remotely close to being as talented as Scorsese, and this film is an amateurish piece of wannabe “Goodfellas” crap. Armed with a dreadful and unnecessary voiceover narration that at times is split between both DeMeo’s hoodlum and Borghese’s poorly integrated cop character (we’re never properly introduced to the guy!), this comes off like dreadful poseur job from two guys way out of their depth. Also not helping with the split narrative is the fact that DeMeo and Borghese sound fairly similar.

DeMeo’s performance is that of a posturing toolbag playing a posturing toolbag. Oooh, look. He drives a GTO. Wanker. Meanwhile, the non-linear narrative is as confusing as it is irritating. It’s a flashback-heavy mess, but also a dreadfully boring one at that. DeMeo (looking more CrossFit enthusiast than hardened criminal) is amateurish and on a clear ego-trip, but he’s surrounded by a bunch of colourless goombah-types who appear to be bit players from bigger mobster movies that have somehow graduated to mid-level co-star status here. Sure, the film throws in real actors like Armand Assante, the rarely seen Cathy Moriarty, and veteran character actor Robert Costanzo, but the latter two feel like ‘guest stars’ if anything, ditto Ice-T and Ja Rule. Ja Rule has improved a bit over the years, and Ice-T gives the second-best performance without stretching himself at all (Meanwhile, Vincent Pastore bizarrely plays a hairdresser!). Still, it’s really only veteran mobster specialist Assante who truly comes out of this unscathed. He’s playing a part he could play in his sleep and in a film that doesn’t deserve even a somnambulant Armand Assante. However, he nonetheless brings enough authority and gravitas to make you wish the film was about his self-made man character. He gives the film a quality of performance it’s nowhere near worthy of.

Basically the home movie version of “Goodfellas”, this is a fourth-rate hack-job vanity project for the charisma-free DeMeo and Borghese who don’t distinguish themselves or the film in any way. Frightfully dull, derivative, mostly badly acted, and poorly structured. Just terrible, leave this one to the pros, Misters DeMeo and Borghese, you’re just not up to the task.

Rating: D-


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