Aviolent, Scorsese-inspired foray into the squalid world of the East Harlem Italian Mafia, “No Exit” includes all the expected scenes of tortures, on-the-quick body dumpings, extreme pathos and caught-in-the-crossfire deaths of innocent bystanders. Work’s blatant lack of originality undermines the otherwise impressive audacity that it took for filmmakers Michael and David DiCerto to begin their careers by presenting a world that is entirely without hope, happiness or role models. Theatrical distribution is not an impossibility, due to the violence and mob theme.
Upon his release from jail, Benny (Nick Sandow), an ex-boxer turned neighborhood hit man, announces that he’s “back in town” by kidnapping, torturing and then pointlessly killing a member of a rival “family.” As usual in such films, this first act of violence instigates the central dramatic question: Will Benny be found out and killed?
Pic then settles down to follow the daily lives of Benny and his best friend, the goodhearted, in-over-his-head Vinny (Michael Aparo). Benny is a bad influence, getting the two of them caught up in a dangerous, doomed coke deal; he also has a knack for randomly killing people and beating his junkie girlfriend in public, which provides for some uncomfortable situations for Vinny. It almost goes with out saying that things end badly for the duo and the neighborhood denizens with whom they interact.
The DiCerto brothers’ knowledge of film history seems to begin and end with Martin Scorsese’s work. In an almost hilariously conspicuous way, they copy the sardonic body-dumping scene from “Goodfellas” and the Robert De Niro–Harvey Keitel chat on the roof from “Mean Streets.” They even offer an ex-boxer protagonist who self-destructively throws away his talent (shades of “Raging Bull”), while the final act recalls “Taxi Driver’s” mood, as Benny wanders the hood, obsessively looking for a few people to kill while remaining unconcerned about the prospects of being taken down himself.
Tech credits are better than solid for such a low-budget pic, and lead performance by Sandow reminds of the early work of — who else? — De Niro.
The DiCerto brothers clearly feel comfortable in the world they’re portraying. If they continue to dramatize that world in the future, they would be advised to start finding their own storytelling voice.