Dir: Carlo Mazzacurati. Italy. 2000. 110 mins.
Prod co: Rodeo Drive. Co-prod: Medusa Film. Int'l sales: Adriana Chiesa (+39 06 807 0400). Prods: Marco Poccioni, Marco Valzania. Scr: Franco Bernini, Umberto Contarello, Carlo Mazzacurati, Marco Pettenello. DoP: Alessandro Pesci. Prod des: Leonardo Scarpa. Editor: Paolo Cottignola. Main cast: Antonio Albanese, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Toni Bertorelli, Ivano Marescotti, Isabella Ferrari, Marco Paolini.
Talented but inconsistent Italian director Carlo Mazzacurati returns once more to his favourite theme: social rejects, and their strategies for survival. The film is an only partly successful attempt to revive the great sixties tradition of commedia all'italiana; Mario Monicelli's I Soliti Ignoti is an obvious ancestor. The central relationship, between two small-time crooks who accidentally pull off a big-time heist, is well drawn, and the setting - the director's hometown of Padua seen from the underside - is a convincing, living presence. But the film stays inside the genre closet for too long, trying to deliver both the sweet and the sour at the same time. It has a certain verve though, and the casting of Albanese, currently one of Italy's most bankable comedians, combined with the distribution muscle of Medusa, will ensure a respectable domestic run.
Antonio (Albanese) and Willy (Bentivoglio) are petty thieves, the first a rugby player in decline, now just brought on for spot kicks (for which he demands money upfront), the second a salesman who has lost his job and his wife and is sliding towards vagrancy. When they steal (without quite meaning to) one of Italy's most venerated holy relics - the tongue of Saint Anthony - the two suddenly find themselves at the centre of a nationwide manhunt. They also find themselves facing what is probably their last chance to make something of their lives.
Bentivoglio - the most persistent contender for the throne of Mastroianni - gets better with every film. Albanese too is good as a man bruised by fortune and liable to lash out against it, and his friends, at any moment. The female characters on the other hand are mere ciphers, required only to pout or scowl as the occasion demands. Voiceover commentary is relied on rather too heavily to provide emotional insights which should either come through the action and dialogue or not at all. But there are encouraging signs here: an attention to getting the visual detail right (for example, the mock TV news footage) which is rare in contemporary Italian cinema, and a finale which is genuinely tense and involving after the longueurs of the central section. Not really for export; though it might have limited prospects elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe.