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FRIENDS AND ROMANS (director/writer: Christopher Kublan; screenwriters: Gregg Greenberg/Michael Rispoli; cinematographer: Austin F. Schmidt; editor:David Leonard; music: Aaron Mirman; cast: Michael Rispoli (Nick DeMaio), Annabella Sciorra (Angela DeMaio), Paul Ben-Victor (Dennis Socio), Katie Stevens (Gina DeMaio), Tony Darrow (Frankie Fusso), Anthony DeSando (Joey ‘Bananas’ Bongano), Tony Sirico (Bobby Musso), Charlie Semine (Paulie / Goldberg), Christopher Kublan (Joey Two Chins), Zandi Holup (Stacy Seidman) Joe D’Onofrio (Big Vinnie), Patrick Kerr (Mr. Rothman), John Bianco (Mikey Brigandi ); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Mailer; Freestyle Media (Paladin release); 2014)
“Leaden comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Christopher Kublan(“Giving It Up”) helms and writes this genial but leaden comedy. It tells of how Italian-Americans are pigeon-holed into playing gangster roles for TV and movies, and how a group of such close friends try to break the stereotype by putting on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Other writers in this farce include Gregg Greenberg and the film’s star Michael Rispoli. He’s best known for appearing in The Sopranos

Michael Rispoli plays an amiable 51-year-old Staten Island truck driver family man, named Nick DeMaio. He has aspirations to be an actor, and has earned extra money moonlighting in non-speaking commercials typecast as a gangster.

After flubbing an audition for Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Nick prompts his best wise-guy pal Denny (Paul Ben-Victor) to direct an amateur theater Shakespeare play with a bunch of their Italian-American extra pals. The sub-plot has a newly crowned mob boss, Joey “Bananas” Bongano (Anthony DeSando), hiding in the theater’s basement because he’s wanted by the feds for killing a Broadway producer. The FBI places one of their agents (Charlie Semine) into the play as an amateur actor. But he doesn’t realize that the wanted mob chief is playing Brutus.

Annabella Sciorra plays Nick’s loyal wife Angela, who is another Sopranos alum. In the family subplot, their high school daughter (Katie Stevens) wants desperately to be in the school’s rendition of Guys and Dolls, directed by the effete Shakespeare lover Mr. Rothman (Patrick Kerr). She gets the part only because the foppish drama teacher thinks her dad is in the mafia.

The unfunny comedy spends its time exasperatingly trying to come up with ways to exploit the Italian-American ethnic situation. It gratingly continues in this exploitation vein, desperately searching for laughs and to justify its fatuous story. What it does best is appeal to the viewer’s sentimentality for Italian-American gangster movies and their appetite for cannoli.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”