A B-movie Goodfellas down to its bones, Michael Corrente's new film Brooklyn Rules even begins with a 'this is where I live'-style narration in which a young man takes us through the ins and outs of his Italian-American neighborhood, giving us a guided tour of the world we're about to spend 90-odd minutes in. The difference between Scorcese's classic and this is that we're not in the 60s, but the mid-80s -- we see two people arguing over the time logistics of Back to the Future at one point -- and the main character is not a criminal per say, but is only on speaking terms with the life. Michael Turner (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is a scrapper who, we're led to believe, is putting his nascent wiseguy instincts to the most harmless possible use, cheating on tests in a pre-law program at Columbia University. It's here where he will meet Ellen, (Mena Suvari) an uptown girl who is pretty happy in her whitebread world, and will begin to feel himself pressured to choose one world or the other.
If the movie I've just described is from Mars, there's a whole other movie going on in there that's from Venus. That movie features Alec Baldwin as a cold-eyed Gambino associate -- the film is steeped in actual 80s New York mob lore, specifically the murder of boss Castellano and subsequent rise of Gotti -- and aims to be a serious and bloody mob movie. Baldwin's character, Caesar, is recruiting Michael's friend Carmine (Scott Caan) into the mob and whenever Caesar enters the picture, things take on a much darker tone, and violence is usually right around the corner. Baldwin proceeds exactly as if entire movie is focused on him -- maybe that's what they told him -- and because he's such a good actor, he drags the energy of the story towards his B-plot and inadvertently sucks the air out of the film's A-story, which is all about Michael's relationship with Ellen and his attempt to transact an amiable divorce from his old neighborhood. It's an odd problem for a film to have, but it's one that makes Brooklyn Rules fairly lopsided.