A pleasant, amiable little preteen comedy...and as close to a Sopranos reunion as you're going to get now. Gaiam and Mar Vista Entertainment have released Nicky Deuce, the 2013 cable-made family comedy originally aired on Nickelodeon, and starring iCarly's Noah Munck, along with Steven R. Schirripa, Rita Moreno, Vincent Curatola, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, and a special appearance by James Gandolfini. Based on a book written by Schirripa and Charles Fleming, Nicky Deuce may actually get a few more chuckles from knowing parents who can appreciate the sly mob-movie humor here, while kids should enjoy the sunny atmosphere of fun and slapstick in this genial family flick. A few tiny extras are included with this sharp widescreen transfer.
Smart, shy teen Nicholas Borelli II (Noah Munck) has little to look forward to this summer other than watching movies starring his favorite goombah character, Johnny Gorgeous (Maurizio Terrazzano), and attending Math Camp. Leading a rather boring, safe life in the suburbs, with a mom (Andrea Frankle) whose bland recipes are as antiseptic as his germaphobic father's (Carlo Mestroni) hands, there doesn't seem to be much incentive for Nicholas to break out of his shell...particularly since he has no desire to, as he emphatically states to his fellow nerdy friend, Josh (Jesse Camacho). When his parents are called away to New Guinea for a work seminar, however, and Math Camp is cancelled due to exploding toilets, there's nowhere for Nicholas to go for the summer except to his grandmother Tutti's (Rita Moreno) house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn--a side of his family he's never met because of his father's rejection of them. At Tutti's, Nicholas meets Uncle Frankie (Steve Schirripa), whom Nicholas's father labeled a "blight" on society. Despite good-natured Frankie's efforts to make Nicholas comfortable in his new surroundings, Nicholas feels out of place in Bensonhurst, and eventually seeks help from Donna (Cristine Prosperi), a kindly guardian angel who tried to help Nicholas when he first landed in Brooklyn, and Tommy (Cassius Crieghtney), a fellow friendly teen who runs errands for Charlie Cement (Tony Sirico), one of Frankie's "crew." Soon, however, Nicholas finds himself way in over his head when he accidentally accepts a job from neighborhood mobster Paulie (Vincent Curatola), acquiring in the process a rep in the neighborhood as junior enforcer "Nicky Deuce."
When I first saw the ads for Nicky Deuce's premiere back in May, I had to back up my DVR to make sure I saw correctly that, in addition to some of his other Sopranos performers, mob TV superstar James Gandolfini was making an appearance, too. I assumed it was probably done as a favor to Schirripa upon whose book series the movie is based (or maybe he wanted to appear in something fun and light his young son might enjoy), but it still seemed an unlikely move on Gandolfini's part: revisiting gangland hijinks in a low-budget made-for-cable tweens movie. Now after his untimely death just a month ago, his presence here makes for a slight, unplanned-for glitch in the piece's atmosphere, one that strikes the only (wholly inadvertent) off-note in an otherwise amusing little comedy. Indeed, Gandolfini's brief scene is ironically the movie's funniest. Playing small-time gambler Bobby Eggs, who owes large to mobster Paulie, a gruff, dead-serious Gandolfini tries to shoo away wildly incongruous (and completely unaware) "enforcer" Nicholas when the teen comes knocking, before an oblivious Nicholas accidentally creams Bobby in a series of nicely-staged slapstick gags. It's a droll twist on Gandolfini's iconic mob image...but it's hard for fans of the actor not to view it without a slightly macabre feeling.
Luckily, the rest of Nicky Deuce is fairly diverting in a low-key manner. I asked my younger kids if they had ever seen or read the book series upon which the movie was based (they hadn't), nor were they at all familiar with mob movie conventions, so I was curious to see how they would take to this. As expected, they didn't get why I thought it was so funny to see Johnny Sack ask the boys to do a "job" for him--de-friend his meddling mother-in-law on a social networking site ("How many more cute dog videos can I watch?")--or see Paulie Walnuts get kissed on the mouth by Gibby ("Hey! We ain't datin'!"). But they found plenty of laughs at the more accessible storyline of fish-out-of-water Munck trying to get used to Bensonhurst, while discovering a new confidence once he finds his extended family. The jokes are pretty good for this sort of thing (one kid yells, "It's the Feds!" when he sees Munck's chinos, while Sirico asks if he's with the PGA), with some of the gags achieving a surprisingly deft balance (at Curatola's office, there's an unexplained guy tied up behind the boys...just what's going to happen to him?). I don't know what kind of career Munck is going to have as an actor when he gets older, but he's just right here, while all the vets turn in likeable, sweet performances (Moreno can make even background business--manning a kissing booth--far funnier than it has any right to be). Perfect light, summer viewing for the family...or "the Family," if you're so employed.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.