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As someone who is 50 percent Italian, I was 50 percent offended by Mambo Italiano. The comedic exploitation of the Italian family at the film’s core wasn’t a problem—I’ve seen and made my fair shair of Mafia jokes and expert spaghetti twirls. But if you’re going to take the risk of making a stereotypical Italian film, at least do Italians justice by making it a good one.
The film opens with promise: warm coloring, fluid camerawork and appealing Italian-themed scenes, with the family eating gelato and the like. We are introduced to in-the-closet Angelo (Luke Kirby), a young Italian man from Montreal finally moving out after twenty-seven years of in what he calls “the trap,” living at home with his parents Gino (Paul Sorvino, betraying fans of his work in the far superior Goodfellas) and Maria (Ginette Reno), who just want him to meet and fall in love with a nice Italian girl.
After Angelo’s new apartment is robbed, who should show up on the scene but studly policeman Nino Paventi (Peter Miller), a childhood friend of Angelo’s who ditched him in high school after Angelo became unpopular—an inappropriately lighthearted flashback scene shows Angelo as a freshman being taped to a locker against his will, his body forming the central “A” in a homophobic slur. So Nino is back in Angelo’s life, and after things become hot and heavy on a camping trip, they decide to move in together.
But tell their parents? Fugghedaboutit. Of course the news leaks anyway, and while Angelo comes to grips with his own sexuality, Nino has his image as a t-o-u-g-h heterosexual cop to keep up. Nino and Angelo suffer from a definite lack of sexual chemistry. Angelo is convincing as a young man in constant pursuit of a childhood crush, but as an audience we immediately get the feeling that in bed with Angelo, Nino is always looking over his shoulder to check out ESPN.
Angelo is the only character in this film with more than one-and-a-half dimensions, but a couple other cast members make the most out of the caricatures they play. As Lina, Mary Walsh finds humor as Nino’s widowed mom and possible love child of Joan Rivers and one unbelievably drunk Sophia Loren, whose love for her son is topped only by her love of one-upping family friends Gino and Maria.
One of the better scenes in this movie is an argument between the three over whose son is on top during sex. Pina Lunetti (Sophie Lorain) is also entertaining, if only for the word that her first name closely resembles in Italian.
Mambo Italiano is a mess. So much time is spent making gay, Italian, and Canadian—not even regular Canadian, FRENCH-Canadian—jokes in order to remind the audience of the movie’s irreverence that we’re all about ready to skip the cannoli and go home. Where sexual orientation, ethnic and family issues should be addressed seriously, another joke is made to relieve the tension. The idea of a gay Italian-French-Canadian has a lot of comic potential; in the end, unfortunately, the director is too overwhelmed to stop making jokes and tell what could have been a winning story.
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