Early on in the mob tale “The Wannabe,” set in the early 1990s, a jitteriness emerges about the inevitable collision course between fantasy and reality, and it creates genuine suspense.
Writer-director Nick Sandow — an actor seen as the warden on “Orange Is the New Black” — starts with a shuffling portrait of Thomas (Vincent Piazza), a mafia-culture-obsessive who attends the John Gotti murder trial every day, convinced that if he can free the crime boss, the mob world will welcome him.
His new spitfire of a girlfriend, Rose (a pungently crass, sad Patricia Arquette), has her own self-destructive tendencies, and together they feed each other’s delusions until drugs and a crime spree seal their fate.
That Martin Scorsese is an executive producer isn’t surprising. Inspired by true events, Sandow’s approach is very much the bitter, myth-busting kink of “King of Comedy” crossed with the fringe milieu of Scorsese’s gangster tales.
Piazza and Arquette are mesmerizing together as a whirlpool couple play-acting their dingy dreams into oblivion, and Sandow’s judicious casting of the eye-rollers around them — Michael Imperioli, Domenick Lombardozzi, Vincenzo Amato, even himself — lends a winking authenticity. The mix of callous humor and romantic doom doesn’t always hold up, but in its best moments, “The Wannabe” finds real spikiness in the pitfalls of anti-hero worship.
MPAA rating: R for drug use, language, some sexuality and violence.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: Arena Cinema Hollywood.