A soporific 1960’s coming-of-age saga in which the protagonist is a twit and the mobster is an only-in-the-movies sage prone to wisely pontificating when not whacking guys in broad daylight, Robert De Niro’s directorial debut A Bronx Tale promises a conflict between competing paternal role models but winds up reveling in a fantasy vision of gallant Mafioso. Calogero (Francis Capra as a boy, Lillo Brancato as a teen) idolizes local mobster Sonny (Chazz Palminteri) and resents his working-class bus driver father Lorenzo (De Niro), mimicking the former’s distinctive hand gestures and body language while ignoring the latter’s conviction that a real man supports his family with hard work. Lorenzo’s helpless inability to compete with Sonny’s power and wealth is the film’s gut-wrenching center, and yet Palminteri’s stagy script (based on his play) lacks the balance necessary for such discord to flourish, as it often relegates Lorenzo to the sidelines while elevating the sympathetic Sonny to principal player status. Palminteri and De Niro are compelling apart but rather lackluster together, given only a few brief encounters that each play out the same way: Lorenzo refuses Sonny’s generous (but untrustworthy) business offers, vehemently demands that the crook stay away from his son, and is then escorted from the premises. The narration is creaky, Brancato’s performance is wooden, and De Niro’s direction – despite conveying an intimate sense of time and place – is largely lackluster. Yet it’s the moralistic tenor of A Bronx Tale that’s ultimately most off-putting, a mood most acutely felt in the earnest-but-didactic civil rights subplot involving Calogero’s thoroughly improbable relationship with Taral Hicks’ African-American beauty.