Dir: Gabriele Muccino. Italy. 2001. 117 mins.

Thirty-five-year-old Roman director Gabriele Muccino is the only player on the contemporary Italian scene who has the potential to be as big as Roberto Benigni. His third film, L'Ultimo Bacio (The Last Kiss) was the top grossing Italian film of 2001, grossing Euros 13.1 million (Lira 25.4 billion) by the end of an almost year-long run, and finishing fourth overall behind Harry Potter, Castaway, and Bridget Jones's Diary. Confirmation that Muccino might be one of the few Italian directors to make it across the Atlantic came when The Last Kiss jointly picked up the World Audience Award at last week's Sundance Festival.

It must be a generational thing. The Last Kiss, a tale of thirtysomething males dithering between responsibility and the open road, is a likeable but fragile film, with little emotional depth. Very much of its time and place, the film is a superficial paean to Muccino's superficial contemporaries: the clean-shaven, financially buoyant, recreational-drug-using, mobile-phone-dependent generation of 30-year-olds which inhabit the smarter suburbs of metropolitan Italy at the beginning of the new millennium. There is a light comic touch about some of the dialogue, but Muccino labours rather too much to create plot mirrors and character contrasts. His story mechanics are in such need of oiling: we can practically hear the cogs squeaking.

The film's motto is voiced by one of the characters: "We're not 20 anymore; but we're not 40 yet either, thank God." (Hey guys - it's really not that bad). In a sanitised upscale Roman suburb that would not look out of place in a TV ice-cream advert, Carlo (Stefano Accorsi, who made his name in a TV ice-cream advert) is getting cold feet. His girlfriend Giulia (rising diva Giovanna Mezzogiorno, who is Accorsi's real-life partner) is pregnant, and Carlo's just met a much younger girl at a party. His male friends are not much help: one already has a kid, and feels trapped; another is driven to distraction by a crumbling relationship and his family's expectation that he will take over his ailing father's religious souvenir business; a third is enviably single.

Meanwhile, Giulia's mother Anna (Stefania Sandrelli, putting in a decent performance for once) is going through her own late-life crisis. Mezzogiorno, the real star of the film, leaves Accorsi following flatly in her wake - the main problem with his character being that the audience really does perceive him as a weak-willed, two-timing bastard, with few redeeming qualities.

One thing Ultimo Bacio does prove, though, is the sure instinct of producer Domenico Procacci, whose Fandango outfit made the film with backing from Medusa. Procacci spends as much time (and money) in Australia these days as in Italy. He has produced all three of Muccino's full-length features - the others being Ecco Fatto (That's It) and Come Te Nessuno Mai (There's Nobody Like You); and when he takes on a local talent, it is usually one to watch. Even so, Muccino's American accolade came as a surprise to the present reviewer: clearly, the problems of the Me generation transcend national boundaries.

Prod co: Fandango
It dist: Medusa
Int'l sales: Intramovies
Prod: Domenico Procacci
Scr: Muccino
Cinematography : Marcello Montarsi
Prod des: Eugenia F di Napoli
Ed: Claudio di Mauro
Mus: Paolo Buonvino
Main cast: Stefano Accorsi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Claudio Santamaria, Giorgio Passotti, Marco Cocci, Regina Oriolo, Stefania Sandrelli