In the tradition of “The Sopranos,” “Last I Heard” goes for a realistic take on mob life. But unlike “The Sopranos,” which was a cinematic television show, David Rodriguez’ second feature is uncomfortably clunky and, at best, feels like a made-for-TV movie. If it takes us anywhere that we haven’t been before, it’s because we wouldn’t have wanted to go there in the first place.
Joseph “Mr. Joe” Scoleri (Paul Sorvino) has just completed a 20-year stint in the federal pen for his generally mob-like criminal activity. With nowhere else to go, he returns to his old stomping ground in Queens, NY to live amongst his daughter and their like-family next-door neighbors. Mr. Joe’s lawyer (Chazz Palminteri) breaks the news that his client cannot and should not attempt to pick up where he left off, leaving the emotionally and medically unstable former Big Deal in limbo.
I honestly feel bad giving a negative review to a movie that tries so hard to be something special. But it just falls so short that I struggle to find a single redeemable quality to it. Writer/director David Rodriguez clearly set out to make something that felt truthful, but he doesn’t seem to know a light touch from a punch in the face. He doesn’t trust his actors enough to convey the appropriate pathos or his audience enough to assume they’ll “get it” unless several characters spell out the themes over and over again.
Michael Rapaport plays Bobby, the devoted neighbor who now drives around the sad old man he used to look up to. Bobby must have said some variation of “he used to be such a big deal and now he’s just a sad old man” ten times. He drops it into nearly every conversation. Rapaport seems to be trying his best, but he just isn’t hitting the notes. I will forever find a degree of charm in every Rapaport performance because of his role in “True Romance,” but it’s also because of that character that I will always think of him as Dick Ritchey: earnestly awful actor.
Still, Rapaport comes off as classically trained compared to some of the other guys. I think Rodriguez must have been going for authenticity when he cast the film, but it didn’t have the intended effect. Maybe these really are the guys you would find in a deli in Queens, but acting is more than just being like the person you’re playing. You still have to seem natural on camera. You still have to recite scripted lines as if they are your own thoughts. This hardly ever happens in “Last I Heard.” And it can’t possibly just be the pedigree of his performers. Rodriguez managed to score faces from numerous legendary crime films (“Goodfellas,” “Scarface,” “A Bronx Tale”), yet half the time, the actors perform as if they have an off-camera gun to their heads.
Fortunately, the most competent performance belongs to lead actor Paul Sorvino. But perhaps he does too good of a job making his neutered mob boss character believable, because you don’t feel sorry for him at all. This is a man who was most certainly behind many murders, if not a murderer himself. He was and is a terrible father, friend and a bigot to boot. So why should we care if he’s having heart problems or struggling to find his place in a world that has moved on without him?
I’ve made only a passing reference to a female presence in “Last I Heard.” That’s because it’s half-assed at best and insulting at worst. Bobby’s wife (Andrea Nittoli) is basically just there as a sounding board for Bobby or to tell other people how much her husband works. Mr. Joe’s daughter, Rita (Renee Props), has a little bit more meat, but she mostly comes off as a selfish nag. I prefer to have a film devoid of women to one where they are clearly just there to meet a quota.
But even if Rodriguez had all his other ducks in a row, he still got screwed in the editing room. The mark of a well-cut film is one in which you don’t notice the editing at all. With that in mind, Rodriguez needs to fire his editor, because it is a week-one film school failure. Scenes frequently lag with too much action-free time on either end. It gets so bad at points that you expect to hear someone say, “cut.” It makes the whole thing feel amateurish.
I’d say, “Don’t quit your day job,” but filmmaking most likely is David Rodriguez’ day job. Better luck next time, Dave?