But then he makes a big mistake — he runs the risk of angering his nagging mother (Judith Malina). Each week for the past several years, Mom has given Johnny $10 to play the same number. Unfortunately, Johnny stopped playing the number five years ago so he could use the money for his own wagering. Even more unfortunate, Mom’s number finally comes up. In order to cover her winnings, Johnny must place everything — even the deed to his deli — on a make-or-break bet on three back-to-back basketball games.
There is barely enough plot here for an average sitcom episode, but that doesn’t stop Gallagher from stretching “The Deli” to acceptable feature length. He gets a great deal of help from his supporting players, many of whom drop by periodically to tell shaggy-dog stories or simply to behave weirdly.
Standouts in the cast include David Johansen as a zonked-out cabby with a bad sense of direction; Ice T as a surly meat wholesaler who’s growing impatient with Johnny; and Heather Matarazzo (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”) as a smart-mouthed, flashy-dressing teen who captures the fancy of Pinky (Brian Vincent), Johnny’s slow-witted counterman.
Matt Keeslar is well cast as deli manager Andy, who breaks up with his girlfriend in time to find romance at a party catered by Amico & Son. Burt Young and Jerry Stiller play it straight as underworld types. And Frank Vincent is appropriately menacing as a bookmaker who wants to see Johnny lose everything.
Tech values are fine across the board. Subtly setting the mood in various Italian-American bars and restaurants, Gallagher uses music from such classics of Italian cinema as “L’Eclisse” and “Amarcord.” A nice touch, though even die-hard film buffs might not notice.