Valerie Bauer, left, and Katherine Mesa star in "The Red Corvette,"  Frank Lisi's first feature film.
Valerie Bauer, left, and Katherine Mesa star in "The Red Corvette," Frank Lisi's first feature film.
Posted: Thursday January 19, 2012, 11:25 AM
"The Red Corvette": Fair Lawn director makes feature debut at New Jersey Film Festival
By JIM BECKERMAN of The Record

WHAT: "The Red Corvette," part of the New Jersey Film Festival.

WHEN: Friday to March 1. ("The Red Corvette" screens at 7 p.m. Feb. 3, along with "Thicker Than Water" and "Their Eyes Were Watching Gummy Bears.")

WHERE: Rutgers University, Voorhees Hall No. 105, corner of George and Hamilton streets, New Brunswick; 732-932-8482 or njfilmfest. com.

HOW MUCH: $10, students and seniors $9, members $8.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: dreamquestentertainment.com.

A mobster isn't a great thing to be. But it is, says Fair Lawn director Frank Lisi, a great thing to make a film about.

"I love mob movies, but I don't glorify crime," says Lisi, whose debut feature film, "The Red Corvette," could be described as "Thelma and Louise" meets "Basic Instinct," with a soupçon of "The Sopranos" thrown in.

"I've never been a mob guy; I've never been arrested," says the director/writer/executive producer. "But it's what sells."

The thriller, getting its state premiere Feb. 3 at the New Jersey Film Festival, takes a look at what happens to a good girl (Valerie Bauer) who falls into bad company — specifically, a mob princess (Katherine Mesa) whose life has all of the excitement and danger that good girls, and movie audiences, secretly crave.

"What am I going to do, make a movie about a pizza parlor?" Lisi says. "Nobody's gonna fill the seats up."

The film, made over 17 months in Philadelphia and South Jersey on a $25,000-odd budget, is a sequel of sorts to Lisi's "A Sicilian Tale" (2009), which won the prize for Best Short Film Crime Drama at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.

He's hoping his first feature will make an equally loud splash at the New Jersey Film Festival, which for 30 years has attracted audiences to the Rutgers campus with its mix of commercial, independent and avant-garde cinema.

"Being accepted to this film festival, and having all my family and friends come to see it, is a thrill; it's an honor," he says. (He'll be making a personal appearance at the screening.)

As a kid growing up in Lodi (Lodi High School class of 1980), Lisi always wanted to be in the movies. "I wanted to be on screen from the day I saw Elvis Presley," he says. "I think I was 7 years old."

As an adult, he studied acting at the Penny Templeton Studio and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, and got extra work on "The Sopranos" and "Law & Order," but — in the well-worn phrase — he really wanted to direct.

"The [acting] competition got to be too much, and I really wanted to make a film," he says. "Then in 2006, I came down with cancer, and it put everything to a halt. I fought that; I beat that. And when my wife asked me what I wanted to do now, the first thing on my bucket list was, I wanted to make a movie."

Luckily, he was able to corral some heavy talent, including director of photography Sonny Vellozzi and assistant director/producer Tisha Tinsman, and a capable cast of more than 70, including some 15 key roles.

Naturally, such a movie had to feature a performance by one of his favorite actors: Frank Lisi.

The director cast himself in a supporting part — along with such familiar mob-movie names as Vinny Vella ("The Sopranos," "Casino," "Kill the Irishman") and Artie Pasquale ("The Sopranos"). But the hardest piece of casting may have been the title role.

"A friend of mine, an associate producer, had a red Corvette," he says. "He was nice enough to let us use it. I narrowed it down to locations and dates, and got it done. All it cost me is a cup of coffee and a few bagels."

Email: beckerman@northjersey.com