Judge Clark Douglas has a new goal in life: see every movie Freddie Prinze Jr. ever made...go into the incinerator.
Not made to be broken.
Isn't it funny how watching one thing can give you a whole new level of appreciation for another thing? See, I was watching Brooklyn Rules this week, and then later in the week I watched a couple episodes of Six Feet Under. In one of those episodes, a lady complains about her relationship with her recent boyfriend not working out. "I had to sit through every single one of those movies that Freddie Prinze Jr. guy made," she moaned. Because I had just finished viewing Brooklyn Rules, I was able to feel her pain. Neat, huh?
Facts of the Case
Brooklyn Rules is the story of three friends growing up in Brooklyn during the 1980s. Each friend has his own clichéd…um, I mean unique…character traits. There's Bobby (Jerry Ferrera, Entourage), the sweet, sensitive guy who always says a prayer whenever he passes a church. There's Carmine (Scott Caan, Ocean's Eleven), the tough, caustic guy who always offers some rude sarcasm whenever he passes a church. Right in the middle is Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr., Scooby Doo), an ordinary, non-controversial fellow who never says much one way or the other when he passes a church.
These three laugh, fall in and out of love, share the usual childhood memories, and then start to take the expected paths that their character types demand. Carmine joins the mob, Michael gets a job at a restaurant and tries very hard to avoid the temptations of joining the mob, and Bobby becomes a professional worrier. As time passes and mistakes are made, it begins to seem as if none of the three friends will be able to escape a life of crime and violence. Can they find a loophole in the hazy yet stern Brooklyn Rules?
Brooklyn Rules is seemingly inspired by just about every single mob movie/coming of age film ever made. Scenes here and there feel like direct imitations of Mean Streets, Stand by Me, Casino, and other films. More than anything, it feels a lot like a Happy Meal version of The Sopranos. That's understandable, considering that the screenplay was written by Terence Winter, who wrote no less than twenty-five episodes of The Sopranos. Unfortunately, outside the umbrella of David Chase's brilliant vision, Winter seems to flounder around in a world of clichés and obnoxious overstatement.
Part of the problem comes from the narration provided by Freddie Prinze Jr. Consider a scene in which the three friends go to visit a relative. The narration points out that this one particular relative is always butchering the English language, saying things like "and these five gifts" instead of "and these thy gifts" when he prays for the meal. This scene overstates the joke until it's not even funny anymore. The same joke appears from time to time in The Sopranos, when Tony will make some ridiculous grammatical mix-up. However, it always works there, because no one ever comments on it or tries to point it out to us. Brooklyn Rules attempts to point out EVERYTHING to us, as often as possible, with as little subtlety as possible.
Not all the problems can be blamed on Winter, though. The cast simply isn't capable of handling this material in an interesting or convincing manner. There are some dialogue scenes here that are actually pretty good, and very, very reminiscent of the kind of reflective dialogue that appears frequently in The Sopranos. However, as performed by the likes of (the very dull) Prinze and Mena Suvari (American Beauty), it just seems like a banal waste of time, rather than something surprisingly thoughtful. Caan and Ferrara are both okay, but seem to fade into the background a bit too much. Alec Baldwin (The Good Shepherd) adds some star power to the film in a supporting role as a mobster, but he doesn't really have anything interesting to do. Baldwin tries to compensate for this by overacting; note a rather silly scene in which he cuts off a guy's ear.
The film is not terribly effective when it comes to establishing the period…you might not quickly guess you were watching a film set in the 1980s by looking at the clothes, hair, or set design. Instead, the screenplay awkwardly attempts to make a lot of pop culture references by having the friends talk about Back to the Future or fight about whether compact discs are going to replace records. While the audio mix is very strong here, the film isn't great to look at, with many of the darker colors bleeding into each other during the night scenes in the film. A few scenes get so dark that they verge on becoming incomprehensible, verging into low-budget horror film territory visually.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While this is by no means an original or very good movie, it is a rather heartfelt one. In the solid audio commentary featuring director Michael Corrente and writer Terence Winter, Winter explains that the film is based on the relationship between himself and two of his close friends. While most of the mob-related material in the film is entirely fictional, the relationship between the three friends is closer to life than you might expect. During the commentary, Winter points out that most of the scenes are play-by-play versions of things that he and his friends really did. It's obvious that this was a very personal project for Winter, not a cheap attempt to cash in on his Sopranos success.
Back to that commentary, it's a solid one from start to finish, considerably more interesting the film itself. Corrente and Winter are perhaps a little too self-congratulatory at times (odd, considering how weak this is compared to their other work), but it's very informative and engaging. It's really the only substantial extra, though…six minutes of "Cast and Crew Interviews" offer some rather questionable comments on what a great look at friendship the film is. A few trailers appear when you put in the disc, and you can access the Brooklyn Rules trailer in the "Special Features" section.
I tend to be the sentimental sort that likes to think heart and genuine effort go a long way, but that's just not the case in Brooklyn Rules. This is a tired movie that has a very difficult time offering any reason for its existence. Everything you see here, you can see it done much better somewhere else. Worth a rent for genre aficionados or diehard fans of anyone in the cast, but the average viewer won't like this one very much. That's a shame; most of the people involved have done much better work.
Guilty, not guilty, what does it matter? This is Brooklyn. You all know what you got comin'.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: City Lights Media
• Writer/Director Commentary
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.