The story of Tommy and Rosie Uva, the couple who spent most of 1992 holding up mafia social clubs across Manhattan while John Gotti was on trial, is given a zippy rendering in Raymond De Felitta’s Rob the Mob. Following Tommy and Rosie (Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda) from their days as strung-out addicts to their gangland execution on Christmas Eve 1992, the film packs in an impressive amount of story without ever feeling weighed down by its sprawl of characters, almost all of whom are stuck in the past. For the most part, it’s a gas, but the light touch De Felitta gives the material is at once its saving grace and its tremendous limiter.
Though the film clearly mourns them and throws shade at those tangentially involved in their murder, Tommy and Rosie are portrayed as comedic archetypes, a contentious and dopey but good-hearted pair from Queens. They’re sentimentalized criminals, robbing the “real” crooks and too stupid to do any real damage to anyone else. It’s a bit of a cop-out, as the pair’s greed and self-serving criminal behavior is excused in light of their hand in the obtaining of proof of the mafia’s criminal hierarchy. That Tommy almost immediately lapses into his past behavior is of little consequence to the filmmakers. Even more inexplicable, however, is the softness attributed to Andy Garcia’s Big Al, a criminal boss who himself is having trouble separating himself from masculine pride and the rules of crime-world retribution. For whatever violence Al promises to enact, he’s more akin to the grandfather from The Princess Bride than any Corleone.
Rob the Mob is glib in this respect, but the kinetic pace and the cast, which includes Michael Rispoli and Griffin Dunne, assuages the thinness of the story’s conception and conceit for a great deal of the running time. Pitt brandishes admirable comedic timing, and Arianda quietly reveals her character to be the beleaguered heart of the film. The leads have great chemistry as well, which unfortunately only highlights how much dramatic detritus the filmmakers have surrounded them with. Ray Romano’s role as New York Post columnist Jerry Cardoza is only useful to show mild indignation toward the government agents (Frank Whaley and Samira Wiley) who use Rosie and Tommy, and the time spent on Tommy’s familial grudge against the mafia adds up to little more than a chip on the character’s shoulder. And if the film does ultimately have the faint air of authenticity, it’s thanks primarily to DP Chris Norr’s worn-in location shooting. Otherwise, Rob the Mob comes off as almost fantastical in its disarming but shallow view of criminals as sappy sweethearts and lovable galoots who occasionally steal, maim, and murder for their own ends.