The Wannabe is proof that a Martin Scorsese executive producer credit is no guarantee of an interesting time at the movies.
The film, based on a true story (well conveyed in the newsreel opening), centers on Thomas (Vincent Piazza), a Mafia fanboy who tries and fails to fix John Gotti’s trial and ends up going on a crime spree. At the heart of The Wannabe is a potentially fascinating tale of masculine performance and an outsider’s attempts to break into long-established cultural groups. Unfortunately, the film never really explores these issues, instead leaving Thomas as something of a cipher.
After hearing the verdict in the Gotti trial, he opens his mouth wide and silently screams, in slow motion. The moment feels more frustrating than emotionally devastating — Thomas cares a lot about the Mafia, yes, but what else is there to him? His girlfriend (later wife), Rose (Patricia Arquette), doesn’t fare much better. Arquette is a reliably strong actress, capable of filling a trashy-on-the-surface role like Alabama in True Romance with intrigue and humor, but here she isn’t given much to do beyond act like a typical moll, all long nails and New York accent.
Thomas and Patricia are tragically fated, but it is difficult to find a foothold in their story. Meanwhile, director Nick Sandow relies on a drab color palette that suits the generally humorless script. Michael Imperioli turns up for a brief appearance as Alphonse, Thomas’s brother, who works as a florist and sports an impressive ponytail. Imperioli’s presence is a welcome one, but it mostly serves to remind the audience of better onscreen Mafia depictions.
Written and directed by Nick Sandow
Now playing, AMC Empire 25
Available on demand