It's hot and the folks in Astoria are bothered. Rival gangs, inter-racial difficulties, tentative friendships and aggrevated relationships stalk the mean streets of New York in Dito Montiel’s autobiographical film. Robert Downey Jr. (Dito Snr.), narrates from Montiel’s titular tome as we are addressed in what looks suspiciously like a project which will be handled overconfidently from a first-time director (Montiel from his own script.) The initial darkly-lit self-importance of the present day gives way to the hustle and bustle of 80’s Queens as everything goes decidedly Do The Right Thing. The story flits from past to present as we see grown-up Dito make the clearly painful trip from California to visit his sick father (Chazz Palminteri), whilst Shia LaBeouf (young Dito) struts the streets of growing pains, disillusionment, dreams and disaffection.
Though Montiel pulls-off an ambitious recreation of authenticity of the era and vicinity, the cohesion with which he should be presenting the temporal differences just is not there. Clearly, as we follow LaBeouf in the sweltering youth of relative poverty, there is a build up to a paternal rift; though once the realisation has been portrayed, one wonders what on earth all the fuss was about - it’s hardly This Boy’s Life. Montiel obviously has more faith in his life story than I do, and seems to think his life was one which was tougher/different/more painful than most others. I shall not ‘spoil’ this film by giving away the revelation, but lets just say it’s a precocious kid who, granted, has seen some tough stuff, is in the rotten situation of suffering an awful lot of unconditional love. Struggles with claustrophobic poverty, racism and violence have been done before and been done better. In short, this is an oft-worn track and one on which Montiel has left no lasting prints.
I don’t recommend leaving a space for this alongside Do The Right Thing, A Bronx Tale, Five Feet Hight And Rising, La Haine, Fresh, Kids etc. I do, however, recommend Dito Montiel pays a visit to an East European orphanage, or similar.