The Pope Of Greenwich Village Review

It's always rather surprising to me that a bad movie can be saved by the performances of the supporting cast. The Pope Of Greenwich Village is a deeply mediocre, sometimes bafflingly awful film which is rendered watchable by the excellent work of some familiar actors. That doesn't make me inclined to rave about it but it does serve as a reminder that stars aren't everything, especially in an American movie from the eighties when the level of narcissism and lazy "star power" was at its zenith (or nadir, depending on how you look at it).

The Pope Of Greenwich Village is basically a low-grade Mean Streets knock-off which takes Scorsese's cinematic flair and emotional power and substitutes ethnic cliches and endless arguments between its two heroes, Charlie (Rourke) and Paulie (Roberts). Charlie, a reprise of the Keitel role from Scorsese's film, is a responsible restaurant manager who is fired after taking responsibility for the cheaing of his waiter cousin Paulie. Pauile, like De Niro's Johnny Boy, is a loose cannon who can't help getting into trouble and dragging his friends down with him. When he hits upon a seemingly simple plan for a robbery, Charlie is reluctantly carried along but the inevitable disaster threatens the life of both men when they come up against the wrath of smalltime mobster psycho Bed Bug Eddie (Young). No surprises there and the presence of the two leads doesn't really help make it any more compelling. Mickey Rourke, never a particularly great actor but an interesting support in films such as Body Heat, seems to be on some kind of medication; Charlie alternates between gentle humour and psychotic rage, but the two states don't seem connected to the same person. It's as if Rourke is trying to cancel out his performance, underplaying the early scenes then roaring over the top later on. His rages are also absurdly derivative - do we really need to see another actor slam his fist into a door when his girl leaves him ? Everything Rourke does is predictable. On the other hand, Eric Roberts is rarely predictable, but that's not necessarily a good thing when he's so stratospherically over the top. What on earth was he thinking of when giving this performance ? His Paulie camps around like John Inman with St Vitus Dance, screeching and prancing at the slightest opportunity. Stuck in 80s fashion hell and with a perm that even Jeremy Clarkson wouldn't be seen dead in, Roberts certainly livens the film up, but at the cost of rendering unbelievable every single scene in which he appears. These two supposed wiseguys would last about ten minutes in the real world before having their lights punched out and their performances raise a multitude of questions; the key one being why they wander about arm in arm. There is certainly more erotic heat between the two men than there is between Rourke and his aerobics instructor girlfriend - played by the anodyne Daryl Hannah, who is in the film for two reasons; to indicate that Charlie isn't gay and, more importantly, to show off her fantastic body in a totally unnecessary scene where she is trying on clothes. At one point I began to wonder whether there might be a gay subtext lurking in the background - certainly, you've never heard the insult "fag" used more often than it is here, which suggests that the gentlemen may be protesting too much. But I think it's just two actors being allowed to do what they want by a director who either can't or can't be bothered to control their performances.

Luckily, as I indicated above, the film is just about saved by the supporting cast, all of whom should have received an honorary Oscar for their services. The best performance in the film is given by the perpetually underrated Kenneth McMillan as Barney, a safecracker who needs one more score before he can retire. This lazy cliche is redeemed by McMillan's sharp, edgy performance and his final scene is genuinely touching. In one scene, Roberts is dancing about trying to grab attention and McMillan steals the scene from right under him simply by doing very little. When he's on screen, you don't care a jot about the central story. The same can be said for Geraldine Page, playing the lush mother of a corrupt cop. She does the opposite to McMillan, hamming her role up with relish but she has a style and grace in her overplaying and she is riveting, especially in the scene where the feds come to tell her that her son is dead. The other chief compensation is Burt Young, an actor who has given so many bad performances that it's quite a surprise to see how effective he is here. Playing Bed Bug Eddie, he has a quiet intensity that only erupts into rage in one scene and which is, consequently, genuinely unnerving. The final scene between him and Rourke is the best in the picture, suggesting how interesting the film could have been in different circumstances. The other supporting actors make their marks too - it's always nice to see M.Emmet Walsh, although he disappears too soon, and even the usually dull Tony Musante has a chance to do something interesting for a change.

But it's hard to make too many excuses for a movie which is so manifestly inadequate. The blame for the failure of this film should be placed with the writer, Vincent Patrick, and the director Stuart Rosenberg. Patrick has shown since, in the dire Family Business that his ear for ethnic dialogue is his only real gift. His plotting is entirely based on what he's seen in other movies. That wouldn't be as noticable were it not for the fact that Mean Streets is not just a good movie but a great one. As for Stuart Rosenberg, he's such an inconsistent director that it's hard to see what he's good at and what he isn't. Cool Hand Luke is a marvellously flavoursome prison comedy-drama, An Investigation of Murder has a great cop team in Bruce Dern and Walter Matthau, and Brubaker contains some of the best scenes in the entire history of prison movies. But away from law enforcement, his work has been generally anonymous - literally so in the case of Let's Get Harry, a dismal action movie which ended up being attributed to Alan Smithee. In this movie, he relies on his actors to carry scenes which turn out to be unplayable and which would have needed major surgery in the editing room if they were to be revived. But Rosenberg's long takes ruthlessly display the weaknesses of his stars and mess about with the pacing of the film. He serves the supporting cast quite well, as he did in Brubaker with the marvellous cameo from Morgan Freeman, but that's the sole compliment I can pay him. Kudos to John Bailey though, for his atmospheric cinematography of the New York locations. Marks taken away however for Dave Grusin's awful score and the insistent reprising of Sinatra's wonderful version of "Summer Wind" in an attempt to import some of Frank's cool to a film that desperately needs it.

Fans of either Mickey Rourke or Eric Roberts - are there any left ? - will want to see The Pope Of Greenwich Village, but even they are likely to be baffled and disappointed at seeing their heroes turn in such poor showings. The only possible reason to see this film is to savour a great supporting cast and at least with DVD you can quickly skip past the banal scenes between the heroes. But the flaws just seem to keep mounting and the ending is so arbitrary that it's easy to believe that Rosenberg just decided enough was enough and went home before it was properly finished. The title, by the way, is obscure and explained in the last five minutes. Don't worry, it's really not worth waiting for.

The Disc

MGM have released this United Artists film as part of their ongoing endeavour to release every film they have as quickly as possible onto DVD. Typically, it's an average release which has nothing special to make it particularly recommended.

The picture quality varies from adequate to poor. The film is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 - rather surprisingly and, I suspect, due to laziness - and looks rather soft throughout. The detail level is generally poor and the picture sometimes looks a little blurred. In the opening scenes there is an awful lot of artifacting. This improves as the film goes on but is always evident to some extent in the darker interior scenes. Not too much grain however and the colours aren't bad - especially in one scene where Rourke wears the a truy horrible short sleeved shirt.

The soundtrack is in Mono only. It's adequate for the purpose, this being a largely dialogue led film, but is occasionally a little muddy. The music comes across best, especially the opening song.

The only extra is the theatrical trailer which is about as unenticing a piece of advertising I have ever witnessed. There are 16 chapter stops and a variety of subtitles.

Apart from some of the performances, this is a deeply mediocre film which inadvertantly demonstrates the poverty of ideas which plagued so much of American filmmaking in the eighties. Two minor stars are given their head and proceed to wreck what parts of the film aren't already broken. The DVD is entirely worthy of the film and is probably of no interest to anyone except fans of the stars or the film.

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