This review was corrected on April 4, 2003.
Although mobster Whitey Bulger and politico Billy Bulger recently made real-life Boston headlines with their brothers-on-opposite-sides-of-the-law stances, “Irish Eyes” owes more to classic Hollywood than to contemporary reality. A slick but curiously old-fashioned gangster movie, “Irish Eyes” simply packs up the old 1930s “Manhattan Melodrama”/”Public Enemy” plot and transports it to ’90s Boston. Frosh writer-director David McCarthy throws in an equally old-timey revenge tale. Pic moves competently through its paces, helped by a strong perf from Daniel Baldwin. But it’s doubtful multiplex auds will buy such meller-simple character motivations without high-tech action (most of the violence in “Eyes” is tastefully sanitized). Pic’s straight-ahead purposefulness might score better on cable.
Young boys Tom (John Novak) and Sean (Baldwin) see their upright Irish longshoreman father gunned down before their eyes by the Teamster-tied Italian Mafia, a traumatic scene that McCarthy replays at just about every dramatic juncture of the film.
Sean becomes a crook, spending most of his youth behind bars after he accidentally locks the getaway car keys in the trunk during a bank heist. Meanwhile, brother Tom takes the high road to vengeance, studying to be a lawyer.
But the good/evil split is far from absolute. Sean befriends a young kid and falls in love with a nice girl. Teaming up with an ambitious FBI agent, he informs on Mafia big shots, including his own Irish mob chieftain (an underutilized Wing Hauser), rising to power over the bodies he and/or the FBI have dispatched.
Meanwhile, bro Tom has married into a powerful family whose patriarch engineers an unholy alliance with the Teamsters to get him elected district attorney. Soon, the FBI, the state police and Boston’s finest become embroiled in murderous power plays, finding themselves at the wrong end of each others’ investigations and guns.
Unfortunately, little chemistry percolates between the brothers. The wordless communication and ‘tude duels that sparked the shared-childhood underpinnings of iconic Jimmy Cagney/Pat O’Brien showdowns come off here as stilted. Similarly, the dark-mirror concept (at 11 months apart, the brothers are called “Irish twins”) generates none of the fun psychological game-playing that revitalized the genre in recent “Face Off”-type Hong Kong actioners.
Tech credits disguise shoestring budget fairly well, though period reconstruction is shaky and locations seem isolated and underpopulated.