(director/writer: George Gallo; screenwriter: from the book by James Franciscus & Frank Pesce; cinematographer: Steven Fierberg; editor: Kaja Fehr; music: William Olvis; cast: Danny Aiello (Frank Pesce, Sr.), Anthony LaPaglia (Frank Pesce, Jr.), Lainie Kazan (Mrs. Pesce), Frank Pesce (Vito Pesce), Robert Forster (Sgt. Tartaglia), Rick Aiello (Jimmy Vitello), Donna Magnani (Madeline Pesce), Vic Manni (Louie Tucci); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producer: David Permut; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; 1991)


Hardly a winner!


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Gallo, the director-writer for 29th Street, bases the feel-good character-driven comedy-drama on a book by James Franciscus & Frank Pesce. It’s a tale about an Italian-American in NYC who wins the lottery but still must overcome his father’s bad luck. The film is loosely based on the real-life story of the Little Italy lottery winner Frank Pesce, Jr.. Some laughs and a charming look at relationships make this film tolerable…but… hardly a winner! There are some new avenues explored on the familiar father-son rivalry, but only on surface. Anthony LaPaglia stars as Frank Pesce, Jr., an irresponsible Italian-American who is very lucky. When Frank gets stabbed in a fight by a Puerto Rican it leads the surgeons to discover a cancerous tumor in its earliest stages. But Frank’s reckless ways disturbs his hard-working father (Danny Aiello). So when Frank’s father learns that his son is a finalist in the $6.2 million New York lottery, New York’s first statewide lottery in 1976, he reacts with resentment over the luck of his son instead of sharing in the joy. The father’s bad luck continues with losing his business and big gambling losses owed to a local mobster over his betting on the ponies, as the mobster tells Frank if he gives him the potential winning lottery ticket he’ll forget his father’s debts.

The real Frank Jr. is a character actor who appears as his own older brother, Vito, the policeman. Gallo’s debut as a director results in a film filled with colorful New York characters and plenty of ethnic love. They are all working-class types with big dreams, and their earthy reactions to life’s ups and downs make this unchallenging film easy to take but it is much too trite to be memorable.