Johnny Slade’s Greatest Hits is a thoroughly entertaining mob satire that is joyously campy. That’s welcome in my book since we have had some fairly rotten entries into this genre over the past few years. The story is one that could have run dry and overstayed its welcome in a hurry, but Sopranos veterans John Fiore, Vincent Curatola, Richard Portnow, and Frank Santorelli keep the energy and zingers coming at such a rapid clip that the film cannot help but be infectious.
Johnny Slade (Fiore) is a down-and-out lounge singer who is fed up with playing clubs where the few people in the crowd are asleep. His luck appears to turn for the better when his manager, Jerry Kaminski (Portnow), finds a gig for him at a new club, called “The Club.” Slade’s instructions: Visit Mr. Samantha (Curatola), a shady mobster whose office is the size of an average closet, to receive the lowdown on the gig. Slade is bent on playing his own material, so he is resistant when Samantha gives him the lyrics to a song he will perform – or else. It soon becomes apparent that Samantha’s lyrics are instructions for his henchman regarding who to off that night. It just so happens that Samantha’s songs are audience-pleasing hits, forcing Slade to keep the performances going and the club thriving.
Writer/Director Larry Blamire (working from the story by Fiore) does a wonderful job of pacing the film. The core story of Slade performing a different song each night could have become stale and reeked of an overblown SNL skit, but Blamire keeps the pace up and throws in some entertaining subplots, particularly one involving Slade’s relationship with the club’s manager, Charlie Payne (Dolores Sirianni).
Fiore and his Sopranos brethren are shooting fish in a barrel here, and it is a joy to watch. Curatola is the show-stopper as the deadly serious Mr. Samantha. His interplay with Fiore’s egotistical Slade makes for the best scenes in the film. Fiore is given the chance to go for broke, and he makes the most of it. His musical skills are quite impressive (as are the musical numbers in the film, regardless of their silliness) and he delicately balances the Slade character so that he is energetic without being annoying. Richard Portnow is also clearly having a blast as Slade’s ever-so-optimistic manager.
The film played at the Rhode Island International Film Festival back in August of this year, and I hope that we will soon see it in more festivals. This is a riotous Indie film that deserves to be seen if it is playing in your neighborhood in the future. Sopranos fans will be especially delighted in having four recognizable and talented actors in such a satirical take on the material that they were born to perform.
Studio: Johnny Slade Productions
Length: 95 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated (Contains strong language and some violence)
Theatrical Release: August 10, 2005 (Rhode Island International Film Festival)
Directed by: Larry Blamire
Written by: Larry Blamire. Story by John Fiore.
Cast: John Fiore, Vincent Curatola, Robert Giardina, Richard Portnow, Frank Santorelli, Jennifer Blaire