Danny Provenzano -- star, director and co-writer of This Thing of Ours -- has a new angle on the mob film: He's one of them. His great-uncle, "Tony Pro," allegedly disappeared Jimmy Hoffa; Provenzano himself was busted recently for racketeering and extortion, and after sentencing next month he'll be enjoying whatever press clippings his debut feature generates from within some lock-up. Among his charged crimes were ordering a thumb-breaking and settling a delinquent $181,000 printing bill with untoward aggression. Curiously, while both scenes occur in his film, Provenzano, in true traditional fashion, has publicly maintained that organized crime is a fictional construct of the movies.
And I have little doubt that Provenzano's seen plenty, because This Thing, despite its real-life provenance, appears to be based on dozens of other mob flicks. And in that respect, it feels "real," since what do any of us know about the mob but what we see on TV? With its suburban mini-mansions, office parks, Brooklyn social clubs and boozy mid-level mob capering, This Thing's obvious antecedent is HBO's The Sopranos. And like that show, This Thing wants to examine how new generations of mobsters are applying old-world strategies to new-economy ventures.
Provenzano plays Nicky, a young up-and-comer, who with his former school mate, Austin (Louis Vanaria), has a great scheme that needs backing. For a large upfront investment of $50 million, Nicky can get a compliant microchip placed on a satellite. Austin has a software program that will capture a buck or two off zillions of bank transfers bounced through that satellite and re-direct those funds into a convenient offshore account.
Nicky enlists his Uncle Danny (Frank Vincent), who's "in," and Danny, in an obvious but still funny scene, convinces the old-schoolers accustomed to hijacking trucks that backing something as incomprehensible as "128-bit encryption codes" is an exciting opportunity. Things go swimmingly, until, of course, things go wrong. The mob may be tapping new business, but disputes still get settled the old-fashioned way, in a hail of bullets.
The best parts of the film are the casual moments of goombah bonhomie where fat guys with broad New York accents tell profanity-laced anecdotes. Still, it's nothing that hasn't been done better on The Sopranos, where such scenes are played for laughs and character exposition. Here, Provenzano pretty much has a dozen empty suits play-acting mobsters. The film is mildly entertaining, but it lacks any heart beneath its machinations, and the thin plot provides little tension or conflict. With his newfound down time in the big house, perhaps Provenzano will have opportunity to reflect on a film with more character development, and less head-kicking.