Carbon-copy crime drama won juried American Independent award at this year’s Seattle Film Festival, an odd choice since it was arguably the least original item among contenders. Bottom-drawer plot of a South Boston bad boy returning to tie up loose ends reads like every other “Mean Streets” knockoff in the past decade, with no scene, development or performance standing out from undifferentiated din. With the low-budget gangster genre seemingly played out for the moment, this will be a hard sell in any market.
Pic reps helming debut for vet thesp John Shea, who wrote “Southie” with two others. The “Lois & Clark” regular has some facility with the camera, and good rapport with the cast, but nothing sticks to this refried story, which resembles “Little Odessa,” “No Looking Back” and numerous other “why’d ya hafta come back here?” dramas. Theme of divided loyalties and clan warfare, while given an Irish twist (like Ted Demme’s Sundance entry “Snitch,” aka “Monument Avenue”), is too played-out to prop up cornball script, which has characters shouting, “You wanna piece a me?” and other cliches in most scenes, which usually devolve into fistfights between two or more characters.
As Danny Quinn, the prodigal son who made it all the way to New Yawk before money or luck ran out, Donnie Wahlberg glowers effectively. The character is so stock, though, it’s hard to rate the former New Kid on the Block, here resembling a low-rent Gary Oldman, in greasy Beatle ‘do, chin beard and bad vinyl jackets. Even proven players, including Anne Meara as Danny’s stress-prone , chain-smoking mother, can’t rise above cookie-cutter material.
Rose McGowan, Steve Koslowski and real-life bro Robert Wahlberg try to carve out some space as various Quinn siblings, along with Shea as an understandably anxious cop cousin, but the family dynamics are often laughable, especially when Danny finds sis drunk (again) and offers to buy her a six-pack on the way to detox. Then there’s mom’s little habit of having heart attacks whenever the pace slackens.
Conflict-ridden story sticks Danny between his pals, who open a “private” casino with the help of one Irish Mafia crowd, while his family is beholden to another one, headed by a crusty old-timer played by Lawrence Tierney, doing his best Godfather shtick. There’s also business with the corrupt local union, and some iffy stuff with Danny’s sullen old g.f., complete with the requisite “I’ve changed, really I have” monologues. Far more juiced is the antihero’s relationship with longtime rival Joey Ward (co-scripter James Cummings), with guys more obsessed with one another than perhaps intended.
Tech qualities are rote at best. Although lenser Allen Baker makes good use of close quarters, his shaky long shots and shock-zooms on reaction shots are worthy of a bad Sri Lankan melodrama. Editing is a bit bizarre, as well, with characters sometimes jumping between locations nonsensically. In any case, pileup of similar scenes will be deadening even to people who buy the story.