The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984)


(director: Stuart Rosenberg; screenwriter: Vincent Patrick/from the novel by Vincent Patrick; cinematographer: John Bailey; editor: Robert Brown; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Eric Roberts (Paulie), Mickey Rourke (Charlie), Daryl Hannah (Diane), Geraldine Page (Mrs. Ritter), Kenneth McMillan (Barney), Tony Musante (Pete), M Emmet Walsh (Burns), Burt Young (Bedbug Eddie), Val Avery (Nunzi), Joe Grifasi (Jimmy the Cheese Man), Jack Kehoe (Bunky); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Gene Kirkwood/Howard W. Koch Jr.; MGM; 1984)

“Never amounts to much.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Stuart Rosenberg (“Brubaker “/”The Laughing Policeman”/”Cool Hand Luke”) weakly directs this second-rate Mean Streets copycat film that has nothing to add, has a ridiculous over-the-top performance by costar Eric Roberts, leads nowhere but to an unconvincing ending that can make you roll your eyes in disgust and is awkwardly adapted to the screen by Vincent Patrick from his own novel.

It’s set in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Charlie (Mickey Rourke) is the dapper and responsible manager of an upscale Greenwich Village Italian restaurant and his good-for-nothing motor-mouth hustler cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts) is the waiter skimming from the boss. When Paulie’s caught, both are fired. For some reason Charlie doesn’t listen to his hot aerobics teacher girlfriend Diane (Daryl Hannah), who warns him to steer clear of Paulie because the screw-up is bad news. The unemployed Charlie is in debt from paying his ex-wife alimony, and doesn’t think clearly when out of loyalty he goes partners with the big talking dim-witted Paulie in a crime caper scheme to knock off a safe in Little Italy and use an elderly clock repair shopowner Irishman named Barney from the Bronx to crack the safe. Naturally the get rich-quick scheme is botched because they rob the place of the psychopathic local Mafia kingpin, Bugbed Eddie (Burt Young). Also a dirty cop (Jack Kehoe) with a hidden tape recorder to get evidence on police corruption is killed during the heist. Within a short time Bugbed learns that one of those who robbed him was Paulie, and Paulie’s Uncle Pete (Tony Musante) is sent by the godfather to remove Paulie’s thumb and find out who else was in on the caper. Barney is given up by the low-life Paulie and vanishes out-of-town before either the cops or the mob can get to him, while Charlie is also later found out by the mob boss and meets with Bugbed in his private club. Threatened with losing his hand, in the film’s most menacing scene, Charlie declares himself the pope of Greenwich Village because he got the cop’s tapes that could send away Bugbed for twenty years. Instead of going with this denouement, which seemed to be working, the film switches gears and has Paulie get everything resolved in such a lame way that the entire pic falls apart from its bogus conclusion that has Frank Sinatra belting out “Summer Wind” in the background while Paulie and Charlie casually stroll down the street talking rubbish after taking care of Bugbed in a unique and unlikely way.

The slice-of-life ethnic tale about two small-time operators who got themselves in a big jam, never amounts to much. It’s a limp story with no purpose, that relies on being a character study and an actor’s film. But it’s the supporting cast that comes through and not the leads. Rourke goes through the pic either posing as a laid-back greaser with a dumb smile or having psychotic rages; while Roberts puts on a misplaced showy performance that made the pic unbelievable. In her small supporting role Geraldine Page shows she can act even in a bad pic and plays to perfection the hardened lush mother of a dead crooked cop; Burt Young gives a capable performance as someone menacing; while Kenneth McMillan gives a sympathetic performance as the world-weary safecracker who never caught much of a break his whole life but seems like a decent family guy.