' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: The Pope Of Greenwich Village

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Pope Of Greenwich Village

Stuart Rosenberg’s 1984 film takes place in the long shadow cast by Martin Scorsese’s seminal “Mean Streets.” Mickey Rourke is Charlie – which is to say he is both the stand-in for the Charlie (Harvey Keitel) of “Mean Streets” AND his character name in “The Pope In Greenwich Village” is Charlie. (Hmmmmmmm.) He is a well-intentioned, polite, dapper young man, so dapper you could envision him throwing on his finest cut suit and getting a manicure just to go pick up a banana split from the Dairy Queen. He manages a stately restaurant. He dreams of owning his own stately restaurant. In the opening scenes he discovers his cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts) is skimming checks. He warns him but doesn’t rat him out. Doesn’t matter. The boss finds out and they are both fired and, thus, the one theme above all emerges, the same theme Adam Sandler explored in the not quite as good “Click”: Family First.

Paulie is the stand in for the Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) of “Mean Streets.” Played delightfully by Roberts with a loudmouth charm, he is a big dreamer who spends beyond his means and talks beyond his capabilities. He seems to bring nothing but bad juju to Charlie, but Family Comes First.

And because Charlie is paying alimony to his ex-wife for his young son and because he now has an aerobics-obsessed (this is the 80’s, don’t forget) new girlfriend (Daryl Hannah) who is, as she must be, pregnant with his second child, when Paulie approaches him with the reckless idea for pulling a score by knocking over a safe for wads and wads of cash, well, Charlie is willing to take the risk because his Family Comes First.

Barney (Kenneth McMillian), the aging, world-weary locksmith brought onboard to crack the safe, is willing to put himself through such a dangerous hassle solely to provide a sizable nest egg for his wife and children, even if it means jail or death. In other words, his Family Comes First.

The heist, despite being of the can’t miss variety per Paulie, goes wrong and this is the point where “The Pope In Greenwich Village” pulls its niftiest trick. The heist goes belly-up on account of a cop named Bunky (Jack Kehoe) who has gone undercover in an effort to take down mildly big time mob boss “Bed Bug” Eddie (Burt Young). Bunky shows up mid-robbery, figures out what’s up, pulls his gun, and gets shot. Now, a lesser movie (most movies?) would have simply thrown poor Bunky into this mess to take a bullet to set in motion the second act. Vincent Patrick’s screenplay, however, based on his own book, provides a scene beforehand with Bunky and his smoking, drinking, worrying mother (Geraldine Page) and then grants her a second scene in the aftermath of his death. The latter might be the film’s best moment – Page gallantly calling out the cop (M. Emmet Walsh) on the case when he tries to call her out. It’s weighted, it’s meaningful, it gives death something it doesn’t get enough of at the movies……respect.

So it turns out the cash the trio managed to make out with was “Bed Bug” Eddie’s and it takes no time at all for “Bed Bug” Eddie to determine Paulie’s involvement and Paulie would fold under questioning if you just dunked his head in a toilet and so he gives Barney’s name and his cousin’s name and it all builds to a moment when Charlie, classy and courageously, decides to turn the tables on “Bed Bug” Eddie. It is here that “The Pope of Greenwich Village” goes in a curious direction.

It’s readying for something operatic and then turns and injects a bit that, while sort of set up, appears to have been flown in from a Kevin James comedy. It doesn’t feel right. Initially. Then you consider it. You realize it’s weirdly perfect. Charlie is destined to have Paulie, chattering away, attached to his hip for an eternity. Family First. And Last. And Forever.


Anonymous said...

Oooh look at the still cute and seemingly-normal Mickey Rourke! :D

Nick Prigge said...

Mickey Rourke is actually kind of unrecognizable at first. It takes a few minutes to adjust to the young Mickey Rourke.