“Robbing hoods” is how the news media took to calling Thomas and Rosemarie Uva (Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda), a pair of small-time criminals who started attending the John Gotti trial in New York in 1992. They would jot down the addresses of the mob’s secret “social clubs” (or gambling parlors) during witness testimonies, then stride in and clean all the wiseguys out of their loot — the pot, their wallets, watches, everything.
Because they were considered to be fire-free zones, none of the gangsters brought guns into the bars, which made it easy to rob them. Thomas was no killer — he couldn’t even handle an Uzi very well — but he was a good screamer and could be intimidating. He could make you believe he’d shoot you dead if he had to. And the more scams they pulled, the more addicted they got. It was the closest thing to free money you could find. The couple worked for a collection firm whose boss (Griffin Dunne) paid them a measly wage, but they kept their job as a cover and start making plans for their future.
One of the pleasures of Rob the Mob, director Raymond De Felitta’s serio-comic crime drama, is watching Pitt and Arianda as the rambunctious, lovestruck pair who can’t believe the scam they’ve stumbled upon. Pitt, who could pass for Leonardo DiCaprio’s moodier little brother, and Arianda, who could have easily played Adriana’s first cousin on The Sopranos, play up their characters’ Queens roots — the accents are phenomenal — and one of the surprises in Jonathan Fernandez’s script is that the movie doesn’t throw in any artificial obstacles to separate them. These two love each other unconditionally — hey’re in perfect sync.
Although the premise sounds gimmicky, Rob the Mob is based on a true, incredible story, and the sense of mortal danger is palpable every time Thomas goes in to score some loot (these men were not to be trifled with). There’s a nice little backstory involving Tommy’s mother (Cathy Moriarty), who is disillusioned by her son’s choice of lifestyle, and Ray Romano is terrific (yes, you read that right) as a skeptical tabloid reporter who lands an interview with the elusive couple and falls under their charm. Only a handful of scenes involving Andy Garcia as an aging ganster feel out of place: De Felitta previously directed him in 2009’s far inferior City Island, and the actor’s scenes feel like they’ve been shoehorned into the movie as a favor — sentimental and treacly bits of drama in an otherwise mean, lean picture. Rob the Mob occasionally strays from its central storyline, but De Felitta knows better than to stay away too long from his two leads, returning the spotlight where it belongs, shining on these doomed, crazy lovers riding off into the sunset, guns not necessarily blazing.
Cast: Michael Pitt, Nina Arianda, Ray Romano, Griffin Dunne, Frank Whaley, Cathy Moriarty, Andy Garcia.
Director: Raymond De Felitta.
Screenwriter: Jonathan Fernandez.
Producers: William Teitler.
A Millennium Entertainment release. Running time: 104 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Opens Friday April 4 in Miami-Dade only: Sunset Place.