In one scene of Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn, a woman seduces her boyfriend by playing him a lite-R&B song she recorded. The film itself also comes across as a demo for director-writer Paul Borghese and actor-writer William DeMeo’s talents rather than art to be enjoyed on its own merits. The cinematography shows a fine eye for light and color, but the film’s take on the gangster genre seems like slumming. The script jumps back and forth in time, using two separate voiceovers to fill in details that a better screenplay could show, rather than talk about. Bobby Baldano (DeMeo) is considered a loser by his father (Armand Assante), a legitimate businessman who works in the construction industry. At the opening, Bobby has just been released from jail, and he wastes no time re-involving himself in thug life. Borghese and DeMeo’s script evokes themes from The Godfather, as well as James Gray’s films, but it never gives Assante enough screen time to make a case for his character’s version of family life. Borghese uses a huge ensemble cast, but the name actors—Cathy Moriarty, Ja Rule, Ice-T—only appear in a few scenes. Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn‘s vision of the Mafia comes filtered through a needlessly complex screenplay, as if the creators felt the need to prove they’ve seen a few Arnaud Desplechin films alongside Goodfellas. The title’s nod to Sergio Leone seems rather pathetic.