Paul Sorvino is one of those actors that is so connected to a movie that it's impossible to see him anything without being reminded of that particular film. Goodfellas is so iconic that Sorvino's portrayal of Paul Cicero in Scorsese's classic has informed everything he has done since, and so much of his work after has been a riff on that memorable role. His latest film is a vehicle for Sorvino to take that image of the aging gangster to its logical conclusion, and might have been something special. Alas, Last I Heard is almost laughably bad on every level.
Sorvino stars as Joseph Scoleri, who is just getting out of prison after twenty years behind bars. Before his incarceration he was known as Mr. Joe and was a feared Mafia captain in Queens. He returns home to find most of his old associates are dead or in jail, and he is forbidden to even speak to any that remain on the outside. He moves back to his house in the old neighborhood with his grown daughter Rita (Renee Props), much to the delight of his next door neighbor Bobby (Michael Rapaport) who idolized Mr. Joe as a kid and now runs his family's deli. Plagued with heart problems and missing the old life, Joe faces temptation when low level thug Dominic Salerno (Lev Gorn) begins harassing the neighborhood.
Where to begin with all the ways this movie does not work? The script by director David Rodriguez is consistently and painfully on the nose; at one point Rita actually says to her father "You never told me you loved me." A lot of the scenes seem loosely improvised, but there is so much repetition and meandering that the audience quickly gets bored. I counted at least three times when ancillary characters remarked on how Joe was the man back in the day. A scene in the park when Rita discloses her homosexuality to Joe is clumsy and predictable, and goes on for way too long, like most scenes in the movie. It plays like an episode of The Sopranos drained of all nuance and subtext.
Rodriguez certainly lets us know what movies inspired him. Two of the most celebrated scenes in any gangster movie ever are the baptism in The Godfather and Joe Pesci's "How am I funny?" scene from Goodfellas. The director tries to emulate them here, but the resulting scenes, which are meant to be both menacing and poignant, come off as mere hack jobs. The story is also relentlessly predictable; if the movie hadn't ended as it did it would have represented my first surprise during the entirety of the film.
It is at least competent on a technical level, but then so are many student films. The score is overly dramatic, with rising cues to remind the audience when to feel moved. The biggest sin of the film is probably the way it misuses its actors. Rapaport is no Olivier, but Sorvino has been great in the past and deserves better than this material. Somewhere in Last I Heard there might be a decent movie, but it is buried very, very deep.
Paul Sorvino will be in attendance at the Florida Film Festival to screen Goodfellas, which I highly recommend as an alternative to Last I Heard. For more of my reviews from the Florida Film Festival click here, and be sure to visit the official festival website for info on all the screenings.