The car-stealing, coke-snorting, Irish-American homies wasting their lives together in Monument Ave. would be nowhere without Martin Scorsese as their guide to ethnic male camaraderie. Their pop-culture-happy bull sessions about the sexual charms of real-life actresses and the tactile qualities of both real and fake breasts would fall flat without the conversational cadences of Quentin Tarantino characters in mind.
Still, in setting this umpteenth Mean Streets variation in the clannish, working-class Boston outpost of Charlestown in the 1980s (with its us-versus-them racial bigotry matched by townie-versus-yuppie economic resentments), director Ted Demme, working with a script by Mike Armstrong, has found a distinctive turf for a generic story of loyalty, tragedy, and gotta-get-outta-this-place reflection.
The plot — about inter-gang violence hidden from the cops by a neighborhood code of silence — barely matters. What’s strongest in Monument Ave. comes from the loose, energetic, improvisatory-sounding interaction among the lads, echoed by a rangy camera style often approximating a home movie. Billy Crudup jitters and burns hot as a coked-up pal just out of prison; Colm Meaney is believably threatening as a gang leader; Famke Janssen and Jeanne Tripplehorn do what they can with the unenviable jobs of being alien women on an all-male planet. But at the center, Denis Leary works true, heartfelt, and sneer-free as a local bad boy who finally begins to twig that Monument Avenue — which once felt like the center of the universe — is actually a dead-end street.