Gimme Something Real

There's a dizzying mix of fantasy and reality in today's Cosa Nostra

Blame it on Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, who turned squealing into an art form. Blame it on Francis Ford Coppola, whose Godfather movies made us look upon Mafia capos not as cold-blooded mob bosses but as gravel-voiced moralists. Blame it on 50 years of obsessive law enforcement. But the Mafia, the once-fearsome organization of ruthless crime families, has crossed into a shifty new dimension. You could say it has lifted off.

Take actor-director-producer Danny Provenzano. Gangster or huckster? Or both? The 39-year-old filmmaker spent last week in South Florida cruising movie theaters to promote his new gangland pic, This Thing of Ours, much of which was made in the area and which is being distributed by Fort Lauderdale's own Small Planet Pictures and Undecided Films. The movie is a familiar epic of revenge, greed, mob justice, and shoot-'em-in-the-head-and-watch-'em-twitch action. In a Q&A with audience members at Cinema Paradiso, Provenzano had plenty of titillating things to say about organized crime. That's what you do when you want to sell a movie, right?

But Provenzano is the grandnephew of the late Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, the Teamster boss who reputedly kidnapped and murdered Jimmy Hoffa, and according to New Jersey prosecutors, he's a member of the Genovese crime family (Provenzano denies it). Danny Pro himself was indicted on 44 counts of racketeering, pleading guilty last November to four, and he's scheduled to be sentenced to up to ten years on August 15. Presumably, he knows what he's talking about.

One day last week, we tagged along with the easy-going talkative Provenzano and "the guys," a half a dozen of the featured actors from the movie, as they schmoozed their way through Fort Lauderdale. It was an afternoon of doubletakes. Hey, you've seen these guys before. There's Frank Vincent, a scowling racketeer from GoodFellas and Casino; Chuck Zito, an intense prison inmate on HBO's Oz; Edward Lynch, a hatchet-faced hit man, Hollywood variety. They're almost famous. (Two others, James Caan and Vincent Pastore, "Pussy" from The Sopranos, didn't make the trip.)

Of all the crew, Provenzano looked the least mob-connected. No gold chains or silky shirt unbuttoned at the top. Wearing a simple gray T-shirt and a Beatles-era hairstyle, long and curling at the sides, Provenzano reminded Tailpipe of the kind of characters Dustin Hoffman used to play in the early 1970s. Provenzano, though, has a Napoleonic self-confidence, which had even film veteran Vincent, who has landed a role in next season's Sopranos, deferring to him.

The big question Provenzano handles dismissively. Is there a Mafia, a Cosa Nostra?

"Those are words made up by creative people," he says at Il Mulino on Sunrise Boulevard, where his friends are devouring some "appetizers" (big plates of fried calamari, a mountainous antipasto, chicken cutlets in marinara sauce). "You know, writers and law enforcement types. The jails are full of guys that commit crimes, but they're not necessarily from crime families."

"Five guys in a room somewhere, making all the decisions --" interjects Lynch. "I don't think it works like that."

"What you see on the screen is just the way I envisioned an organized crime family," Provenzano insists. "It's to entertain people."

Lynch, the eager henchman, elaborates. "In my father's era, it was the Western that everybody wanted to see," he says. "Now the mob movie replaces the Western." (Lynch actually comes up during the screening, in the middle of a scene of him garroting a jerking security guard, and with a psychopathic glitter in his eyes grabs Tailpipe by the neck. "Scary, eh?")

But there's this odd extra wrinkle to This Thing of Ours,further shuffling fantasy and reality. Provenzano, who plays an ambitious young mobster with plans to use the Internet to rip off big banks, has woven into the plot elements of his own racketeering record, cute little references to things that really happened. There is, for example, a scene in which a mobster breaks a man's thumb with a hammer. It's sort of what Provenzano admits to having ordered done to a guy in Teaneck, New Jersey. That was one of the charges against him that stuck, though the real-life incident was pretty humane, he insists. The hired tough delivered the purported robber to an emergency room, then drove him home. "He stole $9,000 from me," Provenzano says unapologetically. Makes sense to us.

Then there's the character who reneged on a $182,000 debt to a printer -- just like some guy did to Provenzano. He gets stomped. "He actually said to me," Provenzano recalls, "'What do you mean pay? You shoulda seen who you were doin' business with. We don't pay anyone. '" Oh, yeah?

Tailpipe was starting to feel schizoid. Let's get this straight. When Provenzano is envisioning a crime family, does he act it out and crack some heads? Or does he break a few fingers first, then head back to the computer for some envisioning? It's enough to make you dizzy. Have the mob and the movie mob become the same thing? Tailpipe drove home -- very slowly.


If you reside in one of the trendier neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale, you probably found a foot-and-a-half-long flier jutting out of your mailbox last week. It seems, according to the glossy ad from the Las Olas River House, that gridiron-legend-cum-auto pitchman Dan Marino has been seduced by the siren of big-city life. The Marinos -- wife Claire and six children -- live in Weston, but they're buying a condo at the River House, located just north of the New River beside Andrews Avenue. "My wife and I wanted a 'weekend pad' for ourselves and our friends," Marino gushes over the purchase in the ad. Apparently the 20-minute drive was just too much to endure and well worth the $600,000 to $900,000. Which begs the question: Does anyone have a Fort Lauderdale beach condo available for the Marinos' Sunday afternoon forays over the Intracoastal?

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