By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The thing about true stories that suggest and get turned into movies is that what ultimately matters isn’t that they are true but that they seem true as you watch.
In the case of the gangster docucomedy Rob the Mob, aye, there’s the rub. Or, in this case, rob.
Because the set-piece robberies that comprise the spine of this comedic caper thriller just do not convince.
Now, as true stories go, the source material for Rob the Mob is first-rate. Prime cut. Can’t miss.
And yet it does miss -– although not by much –- because it doesn’t make events that we know to be true rise above their seeming artificiality.
Rob the Mob is based on an unusual New York City crime spree.
Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda play Tommy and Rosie Uva, a real-life couple from Queens working at a debt-collection agency whose inept, small-time criminal behavior -– robbing a florist — had previously landed Tommy in the clink for 18 months.
Impatient to get out of debt and ahead of the game, and not really keen on the 9-to-5, workaday life, Tommy hits on an idea that he proceeds to talk Rosie into.
Looking in on the high-profile 1991 trial of crime boss John Gotti that is gripping New York and its media, he hears a mobster testify that Mafia “social clubs” have an enforced no-guns policy.
That means, he ascertains, that the wiseguys hanging out in these clubs are not armed and could be picked clean — that these goodfellas must be easy to rob.
So Tommy, who has considerable personal reasons for resenting the mob, becomes the careless-about-revealing-who-he-is thief and Rosie serves as his completely unreliable getaway driver.
A promising premise, to be sure.
But a monumental problem arises as Act II gets underway: neither director Raymond De Felitta (Two Family House, The Thing About My Folks, City Island) nor screenwriter Jonathan Fernandez finds a way to make the series of stickups that Tommy and Rosie pull off even remotely convincing.
It plays like conjured movie-movie behavior that couldn’t possibly happen in real life. Even though it did.
And while the script (and, presumably, reality) provides reasons why, once the robberies begin occurring, the mob, the cops, and the FBI (which has the clubs under surveillance) either can’t or won’t just find these flies and swat them, that thrust doesn’t wash either.
Believability is in painfully short supply.
Thus does this Bonnie and Clyde-ish wannabe fall short, even when Tommy inadvertently finds in his possession an organized-crime organization chart that everyone investigating or reporting on underworld activities would surely love to get their hands on.
This too is a plot point that ought to register with more impact than it does.
On the plus side, it should probably be mentioned that, given that this is a mob-related movie, comedy or not, director De Felitta does, all things considered, keep the expected violence to a minimum.
The supporting cast is moderately successful at bringing their characters to three-dimensional life, including Andy Garcia as Big Al, the reclusive joy-of-cooking don; Griffin Dunne as the ebullient collection-agency boss; Ray Romano as a sympathetic newspaper columnist; Cathy Moriarty as Tommy’s estranged and bitter mother; and Michael Rispoli as Big Al’s exasperated second-in-command. But we never get to know the two principals well enough to feel emotionally invested, which is more of a script weakness than an acting problem.
So we’ll steal 2 stars out of 4 for this not-quite gangster lark.
Rob the Mob: Based on fact. Tastes like fiction.