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City Island

Emily Mortimer and Andy Garcia in City Island.

Are you talking like me?
City Island

In Raymond DeFelitta’s comically tangled City Island there’s a setup involving a movie project directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert DeNiro (neither of whom appears in this one). It may or may not be a coincidence, but the film’s star, Andy Garcia, seems to be channeling, or spoofing, DeNiro’s work in any number of working-class “Noo Yawk” roles. The broad, exaggerated Bronx accent Garcia affects is part of the movie’s humor, and it’s not hard to imagine a moderately younger DeNiro playing the role a la his self-spoofing turn in Analyze This.

Which is not to say there’s anything deficient about Garcia’s work here. Whatever City Island’s failings—and they’re there—Garcia’s effort isn’t an impression, but a big, expertly delivered performance. He has a largely overlooked comedic flair. City Island’s entire cast seems to have enjoyed itself on this movie. DeFelitta’s writing may have let them down here and there, but he exhibits a fine facility for directing actors in an ensemble setting, letting them work freely and rhythmically.

Garcia is Vince Rizzo, a New York City corrections officer (it chagrins him to be called a jail guard). He lives with his wife (Julianna Margulies) and 15-year-old Vince, Jr. (Ezra Miller) on City Island, an old fishing village on Long Island Sound off the Bronx shore. A daughter (Dominik Garcia-Lorida) is away at college.

Almost all the complications and comic contrivances begin to erupt during one week. Vince has been keeping secrets from the family. For months he’s been taking off each week on the pretext of playing poker, only to drive into Manhattan for an acting class (presided over by a caustically impatient, and grievously under-utilized, Alan Arkin). And suddenly, he’s brought home Tony (Steven Strait), a young prisoner from the lockup whom he’s had released to his custody for the duration of the 30-day sentence.

It will be almost immediately obvious why Vince has done this, even if Tony and everyone else seem in the dark about it. (Strait is not without his gifts or his charms—especially apparent when he strips to the waist for some construction chores—but he’s one of the least persuasive felons imaginable in this film’s use of him.) Meanwhile, Vince confides the reason to an unusually sympathetic acting classmate (Emily Mortimer). And while Vince has been pursuing his secret thespian dreams, the snarky-mouthed Vince, Jr. has been developing a chubby-chaser lust, and spying on a portly neighbor who has a web-based subscription club for men who get off watching her cook elaborate meals in her kitchen. And don’t even ask what the daughter’s really been up to.

DeFelitta piles on the whimsy and crude wackiness, and he undoubtedly has some relevant aptitudes. But though he must have been aiming for a tone of zany sweetness, this is by definition an unstable combo, and he winds up sweeping aside his comic contrivances in a wash of Oprah-inspirational resolutions. I smiled a lot at City Island’s nonsense, but the increasing sentimentality and neat copouts diminished my amusement. DeFelitta shouldn’t be afraid to bear down more and keep the pressure on.

Watch the trailer for City Island

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