Just when you think you’ve seen the last of Mafia-themed films, along comes Brooklyn Rules. Written by three-time Emmy winner Terence Winter, Brooklyn Rules could best be described as The Wonder Years meets Goodfellas meets A Bronx Tale. So we’ll agree that the story is derivative, but, despite the familiarity of the script, which has some delightfully funny moments, it doesn’t take long for the adventures and misadventures of these three young men, growing up in the shadow of violence in Brooklyn in the mid-80s, to worm their way into your heart.
Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is the narrator and is determined to leave the mean street behind him some day. He is outwardly quite charming but retains the soul of a con man and actually scams his way into Columbia University where he passes himself off as a “preppie.” His good friend Carmine (Scott Caan) is fascinated by the Mafia mystique and has no desire to escape. The third friend is the extremely cost conscious but amusing Bobby (Jerry Ferrara), whose greatest ambition in life is to get married and work in the post office. One of the jokes made about him is that he “negotiated a blow job at the age of 12.”
There are some very violent scenes in this film contrasted with some extremely tender moments such as the burial sequence when Bobby’s dog Spunky dies. The three friends dig the grave and when Spunky goes into the ground wrapped in a blanket, Bobby looks up to the heavens and says, “Take care of my dog,” burying him with his favorite crucifix. Unfortunately, Bobby’s religious rituals ultimately do not serve him well. The ensemble work between these three young actors is excellent with no acting clichés in sight thanks to Michael Corrente’s sensitive direction.
Alec Baldwin does a terrific job as Caesar, a sadistic gangster who controls the neighborhood and plays a pivotal role in the lives of Michael and Carmine. Mena Suvari as Michael’s socialite girlfriend Ellen dangerously borders on being stereotypical, while Annie Golden plays the perennial deliciously exasperated Dottie, a waitress in a local diner.
Complimenting the fine acting is beautiful photography by Richard P. Crudo, period production design by Bob Shaw, costumes by Juliet Polsca and a musical score by Benny Rietveld, all contributing to an entertaining film that must be forgiven for not being totally original.