This has a lot of standard, Mean Streets stuff, but what makes the movie unique is its framing device. It gives the clichÈs an extra dimension. Writer-director Dito Montiel already covered this territory in his 2003 memoir, which recalled his life as a hell-raising kid in 1980s Queens. For the movie, he’s added his own experiences since the book’s success: Robert Downey Jr. plays Montiel as an adult, when his father’s impending death calls him back to the old neighborhood, which he had barely escaped with his life. The flashbacks are compelling but familiar, with Shia LaBeouf as the Montiel stand-in and Channing Tatum recalling a young Robert De Niro as Montiel’s unhinged best friend.
Better are the moments in which the grown Montiel tries to come to terms with a past for which he still feels responsible. It makes every other movie ‘escape’ from a rough upbringing no longer seem so clean-cut.