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Little Italy – 1998’s Best Direct-to-VHS Rom-Com (Guest Review)

Yeah, so Little Italy is a real movie that’s being released in actual movies theaters in the current year of 2018. I, too, am surprised.

Synopsis: 15 years ago, best friends SAL and VINCE, makers of Little Italy’s most storied pizza, had an ugly spat and set up rival pizzerias. Today, their “Pizza Wars” rage on. Sal and Vince divide their time between sabotaging each other’s business and trading insults at the local bar. But not everyone wants war. Sal’s daughter Nikki, and Vince’s son Leo, have fallen in love. So have Sal’s mother Franca and Vince’s father Carlo. When Franca and Carlo announce their wedding, Nikki and Leo’s secret also spills out into the open. Sal and Vince can take it no more. They lay a wager—“Team Sal” will face “Team Vince” in a pizza cookout where the loser leaves Little Italy for good. Sal and Vince succeed in pitting their children against each other. Tempers are raging hotter than wood fired pizza ovens. Little Italy is now a war zone. Who will the winner be? Team Sal or Team Vince? And what of the two couples? Will their love become the victim, or emerge victorious in this ridiculously epic food feud? (eOne Films)

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Emma Roberts, and Alyssa Milano

Writers: Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani

Director: Donald Petrie

Rating: PG (Canada)/R (United States)

Running Time: 102mins

Trailer:

Little Italy might just be the boldest, most audacious movie of the year, and that’s not even sarcasm. To release a movie like this one in multiplexes—and not just in a few; this thing is opening wide, at least in Canada—is probably the most daring thing this year. It looks, feels, and plays like a direct-to-VHS movie from two decades earlier. But, credit where it’s due: that’s on the distributor, not on the movie. Fine, how about this? In 2018, this is a movie that leans so hard into its rom-com cliches that it unironically pulls “The Airport Scene” out of its bag of tricks. Do you know how much gall a crew of filmmakers has to be to do that in the current year?

Anyway, Little Italy is essentially the type of movie you’d expect to go directly to Netflix—a harmless and thoughtless romantic comedy that stars mid-tier actors and is used almost as much for background noise as it is for actual entertainment. If it finds a home, it’ll likely be on a streaming service and for that express purpose.

The premise is simple: a soon-to-be-chef, Nikki (Roberts) has to return home in order to sort through some Visa issues before moving to London forever, and in doing so she rekindles the romance and friendship she once shared with Leo (Christensen). The actors are and look about ten years apart in age but the characters are childhood friends. Whatever. The problem? Their families, once closer than spaghetti and meatballs, are now at war. Why? It’s a secret. And if you think it’s a big important secret that will change everything? You’re wrong. It’s pretty lame. Sorry.

So, there’s a will-they-won’t-they thing going on, except that they both want to, the families aren’t actually doing that much to stop them, and if they’d only just communicate better, everything would be okay. Little Italy doesn’t even have much in the way of misunderstandings or tension; it’s just these two people getting along and then sort of not for a bit. There’s no conflict in the movie except for arbitrary and perceived issues that you’ll see the solution to an hour before the characters do.

The story’s worthless, but it’s a romantic comedy, so that can be expected. The characters are pretty shallow, too, but you can probably predict that, too. The actors are decent enough, but Christensen is so miscast as a 26-year-old that it’s laughable to see the film try to pass him and Roberts off as almost the same age. The pair have a decent chemistry, though, and you wish they were given more to do or stronger characters to work with in order to show it off.

Its best element is its comedy—the most subjective part of the movies (in my opinion). It has more than a few laughs scattered throughout, and they, at the very least, keep it from getting too dull. The supporting characters do most of the heavy lifting in this regard, as a lot of their lines are the funniest. It has more than a few double entendres and some more jokes; it probably has a dozen and a half decent laughs, which isn’t bad at all, really.

When you get right down to it, Little Italy isn’t anything more than the average rom-com you’ll see on Netflix, and that’s probably where it’ll eventually find its audience. It’s light on depth, characters, thought, and story, but its actors are good enough and there are some solid laughs scattered throughout. And, hey, it unironically goes for “The Airport Scene” in 2018, and that’s pretty cool.

Score: 4/10

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