The heart sinks within the first few seconds of City Island, as prison guard Andy Garcia’s prolix narration wafts over footage of him doing his daily rounds. “You asked me about my secret,” he says. “My most personal secret. The secret of all my secrets.” Did we? On second thought, skip it.
Garcia’s not the only one with something to hide on City Island, a tiny, water-rimmed outpost of the Bronx that manages to cram enough secrets for a week’s worth of Days Of Our Lives into its single square mile. His sitcom-surly son (Ezra Miller) is a fetishist with a thing for feeding obese women; his daughter (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Garcia’s real-life daughter) is working as a stripper after losing her college scholarship. Garcia himself has two: he’s a Brando obsessive who’s been sneaking off to acting class when he tells his wife (Julianna Marguiles) he’s playing poker, and he has an illegitimate son (Steven Strait) who’s just landed on his cell block for grand theft auto.
That’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and writer-director Raymond De Felitta (Two Family House) doesn’t have anything like the dexterity to keep them moving. The farce plods where it should zip, and the performances are as thudding as his direction. Garcia and Marguiles bite down on their accents as if gnawing on a particularly tenacious soft pretzel, conducting every conversation at an elevated decibel level so that there’s nowhere to go once there’s actually something to shout about. Garcia’s acting teacher (Alan Arkin) inveighs against the post-Method style of pause-riddled acting, but the nonstop clangor of City Island is hardly the needed corrective. Every once in a while, the din subsides long enough for a well-turned line or a choice observation to make itself heard. But the movie too often equates drama with volume, and agita with authenticity.