J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tribeca ’15: The Wannabe

How are Tommy and Rosemarie Uva like Truman Capote, Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel, Jean Harlow, and Steve Prefontaine? They were all the subjects of rival film treatments produced at roughly the same time. Obviously, when faced with the prospects of a competitive production, you either want to be the first or the best. Unfortunately, Nick Sandow settles for second best on both scores with The Wannabe, which screens during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

In Raymond De Felitta’s superior Rob the Mob, Tommy Uva is a low life operator, who hates the Mob. Sandow changes his name to Greco and gives him a hero-complex fixated on John Gotti, “the Dapper Don.” For obvious reasons, the Mafia has no need of a loser like Greco. Rose from Ozone Park still loves him anyway, despite his whininess. To ingratiate himself with the Mob, Greco hatches a hair-brained scheme to fix the Gotti trial. Unfortunately, it only leads to a humiliating reality check from a neighborhood captain. Smarting from the dressing down, Greco and his wife finally start the holding up Mafia social clubs—the crime wave De Felitta shrewdly focused on throughout his punchier second act.

As Thomas and Rose “Greco,” Vincent Piazza and Patricia Arquette are cringingly annoying. Frankly, the Mob just can’t whack them soon enough. Yes, with a title like Wannabe, you have to expect a sad, pathetic protagonist, but that does not make it any more pleasant to spend time with these characters. Frankly, the Uvas were not especially grabby in Rob the Mob either, but De Felitta had some wonderfully colorful supporting help from Andy Garcia as composite don of dons “Big Al” Fiorello, Ray Romano as nervy crime reporter Jerry Cardozo, and Burt Young as aging Mafia lieutenant Joey D. Unfortunately, Wannabe does not have analogs for any of these characters, preferring to focus almost exclusively on the Grecos’ codependent relationship.

Still, Wannabe captures the vibe of pre-Giuliani New York quite well. It also inadvertently establishes the gutsiness of Guradian Angel founder and media gadfly Curtis Sliwa’s radio crusade against Gotti. Genre fans will also appreciate Michael “Spider” Imperioli’s brief but finely turned work as Greco’s florist brother, Alphonse. Nevertheless, when the slow starting film finally gets going, we have still already seen it all before.

It might seem unfair to compare films like Rob the Mob and The Wannabe or Capote and Infamous, but potential viewers should know if there is a better and more readily accessible doppelganger film available. Frankly, considering De Felitta’s past history with Tribeca, it is somewhat ironic Sandow’s film is the one that found its way into the festival, but Martin Scorsese’s role as executive producer probably counted for a lot. A wan also-ran, The Wannabe screens again today (4/26), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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