"Crash" co-scripter Robert Moresco makes his helming bow in "10th & Wolf," a lackluster actioner about a Marine turned reluctant informant to save his Mafia-implicated family. Very loosely based on the true story of Joseph Pistone, the real "Donnie Brasco," pic throws together gangster archetypes and set pieces, relying heavily on exposition to stand in for character development.

“Crash” co-scripter Robert Moresco makes his helming bow in “10th & Wolf,” a lackluster actioner about a Marine turned reluctant informant to save his Mafia-implicated family. Very loosely based on the true story of Joseph Pistone, the real “Donnie Brasco,” pic throws together gangster archetypes and set pieces, relying heavily on exposition to stand in for character development. When no longer tied to a hot-button topic like racism, Moresco’s one-dimensional dramatis personae and pedestrian storytelling founder. Opening in a few cities on Aug. 18, wider release seems iffy despite name cast.

In the sand dunes of Kuwait toward the end of the first Gulf War, Tommy Santoro (James Marsden), who feels betrayed by his government’s decision not to pursue Saddam Hussein, beats up an officer and goes AWOL.

Tommy’s sentence is commuted thanks to help from FBI agent Horvath (Brian Dennehy). Tommy agrees to cooperate with Horvath, but not because his probable court-martial is commuted. Tommy is swayed instead by the lawman’s promise to save Tommy’s kid brother Vinnie (Brad Renfro) and cousin Joey (Giovanni Ribisi), who have become involved in the family business in Philadelphia.

Tommy returns home to find Joey more or less running the family business, with Vinnie in tow, after the death of local kingpin Matello, (a flashback cameo by Dennis Hopper).

Joey, a Scarface-type swaggerer with far more ambition than brains, wants to take over the territory from the Sicilians who wrested it from Matello. Encouraged by the FBI to take an active role in the succession of drug trafficking wars and truces that ensue, Tommy rakes in the money as he piles up the evidence.

Perfunctory love interest is supplied by Piper Perabo as a bartending widow with an asthmatic child, while Leslie Ann Warren, as Joey’s mother, tearfully reps a lost generation.

The women are generally seen as subservient and weepy, until they are forced into action by a rapist or intruder. The men, on the other hand, yearn nostalgically for the good old days when they hit rivals upside the head with beer bottles and shot people in dark alleys.

Moresco is quite good with sudden violence. Longtime relationships, on the other hand, are granted short shrift.

The mutual devotion between nice-guy Tommy and nutcase Joey is taken as a given, though it reads as improbably as does any glimmer of family resemblance between the clean-cut Marsden and cadaverish Ribisi. The “love story” between Marsden and Perabo might as well have been phoned in.

Similarly, the labored implications of betrayal, lies and moral ambiguity represented by the “sell-out” of Desert Storm (featuring a walk-on by Val Kilmer as a bereaved father of a fallen marine) and the willingness of the FBI to encourage murder and mayhem enter the plot with all the subtlety of Ribisi’s Joey in snakeskin suit striding through a butcher shop on the way to dispatch his enemies.

Tech credits are adequate.

10th & Wolf

Production

A ThinkFilm release of a Jeffrey W. Tott/Suzanne De Laurentiis production. Produced by De Laurentiis, Leo Rossi. Executive producers, De Laurentiis, Jeffrey W. Tott. Co-producers, Joe Murphy, George Engel, Ivan Kavalsky. Directed, written by Robert Moresco.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Alex Nepomniaschy; editor, Harvey Rosenstock; music, Aaron Zigman; production designer, Rando Schmook; art director, Paul Bucciarelli; costume designer, Abigail Murray; sound (Dolby Digital), Jim Emswiller, Brian Best; casting, Karen Armstrong, Ann DeLaurentis. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Aug. 12, 2006. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Tommy - James Marsden Joey - Giovanni Ribisi Vincent - Brad Renfro Brandy - Piper Perabo Aunt Tina - Lesley Ann Warren Matello - Dennis Hopper Junior - Dash Mihok Jimmy Tatts - Tommy Lee Horvath - Brian Dennehy Murtha - Val Kilmer
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