An old school melodrama of loyalty and sacrifice, "Brooklyn Rules" falls into that niche of warmed-over Scorsesean mobster dramas that seems to have become a staple of independent film. Whether it's read as an exclamation of borough pride or as a set of unwritten laws governing its residents, the movie takes a well-trodden path in chronicling the lives of three Italian American friends, circa 1985.
Set in the world of John Gotti's rise to power during changing times, the film opens with Michael, Carmine and Bobby as Catholic schoolboys who are neither good nor bad, playfully getting into mischief and taking notice of a local tough named Caesar (played with grinning menace by Alec Baldwin). Leaping ahead a decade, the boys have become young men and are trying to find their way in a world where Frank Sinatra still rules, but Culture Club and A Flock of Seagulls have taken over MTV.
Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is the serious one, a bit of a con man with his sights set on being a preppy Westchester attorney. He attends Columbia by day and works as the night manager of a neighborhood meat shop.
Carmine (Scott Caan), a lady's man and cross between Sonny Corleone (with a wink at Caan's father) and John Travolta's Tony Manero, falls under Caesar's influence and yearns for the respect and cash that come with being a made man.
Jerry Ferrara ("Entourage's" Turtle) plays Bobby, a sweet guy who's always a bit slow on the uptake but can negotiate 60% off the price of a diamond ring. Plus, he stops and offers a prayer every time he passes a church.
With these archetypal characters, it's not hard to see where the movie is going most of the time, or who will be sacrificed and who will have to follow rules they'd rather avoid. But the three have a nice camaraderie that creates sometimes compelling, sometimes funny "Diner"-like moments of friendship.
The film's weakest link is a subplot about Michael's infatuation with a blueblood classmate, played by Mena Suvari. Meant to underline the great crevasse Michael faces in getting to Westchester, it tends to just slow down the main story. That Michael is growing apart from Carmine and Bobby is made clear in numerous other ways.
Director Michael Corrente ("Federal Hill," "American Buffalo") and screenwriter Terence Winter ("The Sopranos") know the territory and their execution of the film is almost comforting in its familiar, predictable elements. Not as bad as Bobby's mother's lasagna, neither is "Brooklyn Rules" anywhere near the best you've ever had, though at times, it may remind you of it.
"Brooklyn Rules." MPAA rating: R for violence, pervasive language and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd. (323) 848-3500; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 844-6500; and AMC's Santa Monica 7, 1310 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, (310) 289-4AMC.