(director/writer: Michael Sergio; cinematographer: Leland Krane; editor: Stanley Warnow; music: Stephan Moccio; cast: Michael Rodrick (Ryan), Jonathan LaPaglia (Vincent), Dominic Chianese Jr. (Father Nichols), Jordan Bayne (Carla), Brian Vincent (Eddie), Frank Vincent (Big Sal), Vincent Pastore (Mitch), Kristen Kelly (Marsha), Careena Melia (Doreen), Frank Bongiorno (Mike), Alex Conlon (Tyler); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Isil Bagdadi/Michael Sergio; Lions Gate Films; 2000)

“It’s less than ordinary in every which way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director and writer Michael Sergio’s all too familiar urban gangster film maintains the usual plot of a big brother returning to take care of his troubled family and has the usual stereotyped characters that inhabit such B film gangster melodramas and has the usual clichéd things to say about the drug culture and the gangsters who run the show. What makes this one so lame was the lifeless storyline and the uninspired mechanical performances and how vulgar it all is. It’s less than ordinary in every which way. It’s not even up to the speed of the usual TV crime drama, let alone the much superior cable TV fare of “The Sopranos.”

Ryan (Michael Rodrick) gets out of the can framed for a crime he didn’t do, when his junkie girlfriend Carla testified against him on the orders of neighborhood drug lord Vincent (Jonathan LaPaglia). The ex-junkie is now back in his old stomping grounds of Astoria, Queens, in a neighborhood where you can see Manhattan on a clear day and where the Hellgate Bridge acts as a reminder of how distant in spirit this working-class turf is from the other more sophisticated borough. Ryan’s just in time to bury one of his younger brothers, James, who died of a heroin overdose, and discover that his obnoxious and clueless other brother Eddie (Brian Vincent) is also hooked on heroin and is dealing for Vincent. Eddie’s screwed up but loyal girlfriend Doreen (Careena Melia) is also a junkie, who looks like she’s one step away from lying in the gutter permanently. In the meantime, Carla has married Vincent and has a boy named Tyler, whom Vincent thinks is his (Boy what a shock Vince is in for!). She is now off drugs and has made a bargain with the devil that she will love only him if he doesn’t mess up the one she really loves, Ryan. The big crime boss Sal (Frank Vincent) patrols his turf in a convertible while adorned in Mafia cool sunglasses and has given Vincent permission to push drugs in the neighborhood. Ryan blames himself for not looking after his brothers and vows to save Eddie to make up for losing James. Vincent is obsessed with possessing Carla and destroying Ryan and vows to rub it in Ryan’s face that Carla is his, as there’s one particularly crass scene where Vince’s henchman Mitch holds Ryan down and forces him to watch Vincent stick it into Carla’s butt as he screws her after making her unconscious with drugs. There’s also the local busybody priest, Father Nichols (Chianese Jr.), whose more like a gossip conveying banalities than a holy man. He befriends Ryan and counsels him to trust in the Lord to not get pulled back into the criminal activities of the neighborhood and in his priestly ability to tell Sal that his protégé Vincent is out-of-control. Ryan pines throughout that he must save Eddie because he’s the big brother and that’s what big brothers do, and this boring dilemma wends its way down to its final predictable bloody showdown between the two rivals.

The deepest line is said by the priest: “We all have to face the truth.” The truth is perceived as something that shallow. First-time director Sergio needs to go back to the drawing board and start over, because this one is as dead as the trolleys in NYC.

Under Hellgate Bridge Poster