Blame the mambo

Mambo Italiano

Not even Luke Kirby’s full-monty flash to Claudia Ferri can save <i>Mambo Italiano</i>.

Not even Luke Kirby’s full-monty flash to Claudia Ferri can save Mambo Italiano.

Rated 1.0

The new Canadian film Mambo Italiano takes place in the Italian section of Montreal (“la petite Italia”) and tells of an Italian-Canadian family’s reaction to the coming-out of their gay son. Directed by Émile Gaudreault and written by Gaudreault and Steve Galluccio, based on Galluccio’s play, this movie (there’s no kind way to say it) is awful.

Luke Kirby plays Angelo Barberini, a 27-year-old travel agent who lives with his parents, Gino (Paul Sorvino) and Maria (Ginette Reno), and sister Anna (Claudia Ferri). When Angelo moves into his own apartment, his parents are insulted that he won’t live with them until he gets married. Unhappy in his job, Angelo wants to pursue his dream of writing for television. His scripts go out, but they always come back with helpful hints like, “Try something else” (meaning another line of work, not another script), “Don’t quit your day job” and “Stop harassing us!”

When his apartment is burglarized, Angelo renews a boyhood acquaintance with Nino (Peter Miller), the cop who investigates the call. Angelo and Nino had been pals in elementary school. That lasted until high school, when the bullies started duct-taping Angelo to his locker and writing “FAG” in tape over his head. Then Nino started ignoring him at school, coming over only on weekends. Then the weekends fell off, as well. Now, 10 years later, Nino volunteers to respond to Angelo’s call “to see what my old bud was up to.”

It doesn’t take long for Angelo and Nino to get reacquainted. They pick up where they left off years earlier. Then they go several stages beyond that, and before long, they move in together. But they keep separate bedrooms just in case there are any unexpected visits from Angelo’s folks or Nino’s widowed mother. And they maintain the fiction that they are “just pals.”

Angelo rankles under the pretense. “Did you ever think of coming out of the closet?” he asks. “No,” Nino replies. “It’s comfy in here.” But Angelo longs to tell his parents the truth. “No,” says his sister Anna. “It’ll kill them.” Then she reconsiders: “Tell them!”

Oh God, stop me if you’ve heard this.

Mambo Italiano is an atrocious little pipsqueak of a movie, so bad on every level that it’s hard to know where to start.

We could start with the performance of Kirby as Angelo, so lost and amateurish that he can’t even decide whether to try an accent. When he does, it sounds more Mexican than Italian (“I’m so focked”).

But it’s not fair to blame Kirby for too much. The Italian atmosphere in this movie is from the “whassa-matta-you, va-fung-gu” school of ethnic insight, and nobody grapples well with Galluccio’s malaprop dialogue (“Angelo and Yolanda—they’re one of a kind”) or with Gaudreault’s maladroit, stumbling direction. Even the estimable Sorvino can relax now, secure in the knowledge that his worst performance is behind him.

The problem with Mambo Italiano goes deeper than any of the hapless actors; they’re only the victims of the collateral damage. It even goes beyond Gaudreault. He can’t pace a scene or move actors across a set without letting them nervously glance around, as if they’re afraid they’ll stumble over a cable or bump their heads on the boom mic. He pollutes the soundtrack with faux-ethnic elevator music, ersatz knockoffs of Dean Martin and Al Martino (to say nothing of the worst version of “I Will Survive” ever to fall on human ears). But even that’s not the worst of it.

The concrete shoes that hold Mambo Italiano down until it drowns in agony are Galluccio’s script. His characters are either phony or unsympathetic—sometimes both. He has a tin ear for dialogue: Angelo talks more than once about “that spit of a village” in Italy where his parents were born. Spit of a village?! Who talks like that?

Angelo becomes a successful writer thanks to the old saw: Write what you know. But that’s just a literary version of the urban legend; the fact is, not even what you know will ring true if you can’t write in the first place. Galluccio should try something else. He should not quit his day job. He should stop harassing us.