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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

City Island

Andy Garcia, Alan Arkin enhance New York comedy

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The Rizzos are a family full of secrets. Prison guard Vince (Andy Garcia) and his wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), promised each other to quit smoking, but both sneak off to the shed for a cigarette. Vince tells Joyce he’s playing poker with the boys when he’s really attending acting class—apparently an embarrassing thing to do in a working-class Italian-American family. They don’t know that their daughter was suspended from college and is working as a stripper until she can regain her scholarship, or that their teenage son is addicted to Internet images of large-size women.

And then comes the “secret of secrets,” as Vince calls it. His newest prisoner, 24-year-old Tony, is the son he abandoned at birth. Gaining Tony a release under his custody, Vince tells the family that he’s a handyman who’ll live in the shed for a few months while doing work outside.

The pungent accents and sharp-elbowed dialogue of City Island, the latest film by director-writer Raymond De Felitta, suggests yet another crime story from New York’s mean streets. But after a short time the comedy surfaces. It’s not a laugh-out-loud movie until the climactic scene, a kind of Bronx standoff dressed up as bedroom farce. City Islandworks best as a gentle spoof of those steamy, dog-days movies about secrets and lies, crime and passion, set in the tightly packed core of the Big Apple.

The plot is slender but gains substance through superb acting from Garcia, who prowls like a wary, inarticulate animal in the manner of a younger Robert De Niro, and Margulies, a fireplug of anger and repressed energy. Alan Arkin delivers an excellent cameo as the director of Vince’s acting class, especially during his attack on the pregnant pauses of Method actors such as Marlon Brando. “Why does he have to think about it?” the director demands when one of his students slips into a Method moment. “If you want to think, think in the privacy of your own home. It’s not acting.”

City Island opens April 23 at the Oriental Theatre.