It’s not easy to make a convincing period piece on a small budget, but director Ari Taub pulls it off surprisingly well with his 1970s-set crime drama 79 Parts. This is the kind of movie that lets the mustaches and accents do most of the work, but it’s full of entertaining mustaches and accents, attached to colorful characters who are fun to watch even if the story they’re in is a bit of a mess.
The main character here is hapless New York City law student Jack Anderson (Ryan O’Callaghan), who serves as a dueling narrator alongside Irish immigrant crime boss Dennis Slattery (Aidan Redmond). Jack crosses paths with Slattery as he’s seeking a loan to pay off his university bills so he can graduate, and traditional banks won’t approve him (possibly because his father, played by Eric Roberts, is in prison for fraud). So Jack’s fellow law student Geno (Johnny Solo) offers to introduce Jack to his uncle Dennis, who runs a loan shark business, among his various illicit endeavors. Geno just wants some money he can use to bet on alleged “sure things” at the horse-racing track, sucking Jack further into the underworld. A few bad decisions later, and they’re both heavily in debt to Slattery.
There are a lot of other characters and a lot of other subplots, from Slattery’s Italian mistress who needs a green card, to a pair of federal immigration agents tailing Slattery, to the various low-level operators in Slattery’s crew. Late in the movie, some of them even get their own chances to narrate. It’s far too much to keep track of, and Taub maintains a breezy tone that gives the impression that none of it really matters. The movie is full of gun-wielding gangsters, but it never feels like anyone is in actual danger, and Jack and Geno just kind of bumble their way through the underworld, narrowly avoiding harm without even realizing it.
Taub and his screenwriters aim for a quippy Guy Ritchie/Quentin Tarantino tone, and while 79 Parts is not anywhere near the league of those filmmakers, it’s still a reasonably enjoyable approximation. Recognizable faces like Roberts, Sandra Bernhard and Tony Lo Bianco show up in small roles, but it’s the lesser-known actors who carry the movie, bringing a level of emotional reality to the goofy screenplay. There are even some unlikely tender moments between Jack and Slattery’s mistress, with whom he’s forced to enter a sham marriage. At various points in the movie, multiple characters declare that the situation they’re in is complicated, and it’s a credit to the actors that they make individual scenes feel consequential while the overarching narrative is a complete muddle.
79 Parts works better as a collection of incidents than as a cohesive film, and it starts to wear out its welcome as it heads toward its climax. By that point, the story has become so convoluted that it’s hard to tell exactly what’s at stake, although the naïve Jack remains likable enough that we want things to work out for him, whatever that means. The silly characters posture and joke, and the movie coasts by on its own insubstantial (but enduring) charm.