Like James Gray, director Raymond De Felitta has carved out a niche turning his camera on under-filmed corners of New York. The largely Queens-set Rob The Mob continues an apparent outer-borough series that includes 2000’s Two Family House (Staten Island) and 2009’s City Island (the Bronx). But while those self-penned movies were earnest, bracingly unsentimental family dramas, Rob The Mob (scripted by Jonathan Fernandez) aims for a tabloid-ready unruliness. It’s based on the real case of Thomas and Rose Marie Uva (spoilers!), who allegedly had the kind of entrepreneurial insight that, if they’d voiced it to anyone but each other, would probably get them smacked upside the head. Namely: Why is it, exactly, that no one ever tries to steal from the mob?
The movie’s freely adapted version of events begins as Tommy (Michael Pitt) attempts a flower-store heist with what looks like a complete absence of forethought. Following 18 months in the slammer, he secures a job at a collection agency thanks to his lover, Rosie (Nina Arianda). While spectating at the John Gotti trial, he learns that mafia social clubs are gun-free zones. It’s genius! Soon Tommy is barging into a bar with an Uzi he’s unable to control, asking disbelieving wise guys to unload their wallets and jewelry. Hearing the news while cooking a succulent meal, boss/master chef Big Al (a bearded, scally-capped Andy Garcia) muses on how “eagles don’t hunt flies—they scare ’em,” but the robberies quickly become too persistent for his organization (or the FBI) to ignore, not to mention catnip for a columnist (Ray Romano) at the movie’s New York Post stand-in.
Patchy and prone to wild swings in energy, Rob The Mob never reconciles its comedy and crime-film elements. The material featuring Rosie and Tommy’s pep-talk-dispensing boss (Griffin Dunne) tends toward the cartoonish, while the subplot involving Tommy’s need to reconnect with his family (including mom Cathy Moriarty) just kind of sits there, skirting cliché. Even so, there’s an endearing, handmade quality to Rob The Mob, shot in a warm, nostalgic palette that opens a window on a grittier city of graffiti-strewn subways and petty schemers. The scowling Pitt proves no match for the Tony-winning Arianda, whose brassy, thick-accented positivity could probably cut down the gangsters as mercilessly as any gun. While the pair is robbing the mob, she’s stealing the movie.