By Kim Hughes
Watching the riotously bad Little Italy, it’s hard to know whether to feel more impoverished as a viewer or as taxpayer. Well-cast, led by a reputable director, and cheerily underwritten by multiple levels of government, the feckless rom-com succeeds in only one way: it’s awful by any metric you apply.
Like, they’ll-study-this-in-film-school terrible. Stupid script? Yup. Pandering to uncomfortable stereotypes? Yes. Jaw-dropping lack of continuity, mile-wide gaps in logic and credibility? Oh yes. A wickedly inane reveal and scant, groaner-type laughs that hobble home? Sigh.
This should be straightforward. Two pizza shops in Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood led by patriarchs who were once partners and are now enemies struggle for business while twin romances bloom between members of the rival clans. Kind of like a Romeo and Juliet with better chow and Blue Jays garb.
Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen lead the co-Canuck/Yankee cast as the young ones in love (or about to be in love) while Danny Aiello and Andrea Martin play the pair’s wizened but wily counterparts who, naturally, dole out all the best advice because old Italians, right? Indians depicted don't fare much better, and maybe even worse.
From the get-go, it’s bad, so very bad. Though unabashedly set in Toronto where Roberts’ Nikki and Christensen’s Leo grew up as best buds, the latter mysteriously delivers lines like a doe-eyed Al Pacino circa Dog Day Afternoon.
Martin’s cheek-pinching, sign-of-the-cross–making, tomato sauce–slurping nonna would be offensive if it wasn’t so clichéd, and a set piece at an airport with state-of-the-art 1972 security — really, you can just waltz right up to people going through the metal detectors in 2018 and stop the proceedings cold? — doesn’t so much strain credulity as call out for a song-and-dance number that would Bollywood-ize the shenanigans to an equally ludicrous but at least colourful extent. This is absurd to the point of audience abuse.
The supporting cast, including Alyssa Milano and Jane Seymour, do what they can but dog-eared typecasts strike again, with Milano as the loud-mouthed, overbearing, excessively made-up Italian mother and Seymour as a scenery-chewing celebrity chef. Nothing here has a glimmer of originality.
For Toronto residents, there is some fun in the spot-the-location settings, from the Distillery District to College Street. The city looks amazing and vibrant, arguably the most compelling character in this whole charade. But Donald Petrie (Grumpy Old Men, Miss Congeniality, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and Mystic Pizza starring Emma Roberts’ auntie Julia) answers the question of whether a director can also phone one in.
Absolutely no one is well served by Little Italy except maybe Tourism Toronto and tony Italian grocer Pusateri’s, which enjoys blatant product placement. (A poster in the Yorkville location advertises the film and a contest to win a trip to Italy... talk about synergy in marketing!). In language the filmmakers might understand: “Mamma Mia! That’s-a badda movie.” Skip the rubbish film, order a pie, and watch something comparatively deep by Dan Fogelman instead.
Little Italy. Directed by Donald Petrie. Starring Emma Roberts, Hayden Christensen, Danny Aiello, Andrea Martin, Alyssa Milano and Jane Seymour. Opens wide August 24.