WARNING: MORE SPOILERS THAN USUAL. IT’S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.
The poster for “Little Italy” created a mini-buzz on social media last spring because it looked like a parody of an early 2000s rom-com.
“Has the early aughts nostalgia boom kicked in yet?” wrote Greg Morabito of eater.com. “[T]he new poster for a 2018 movie called ‘Little Italy’ looks like something that would be released in the era when fedora bro Ashton Kutcher was pranking his celebrity friends … and the iPod Nano was all the rage.”
Turns out that vibe extends beyond the poster to the actual film — not a surprise considering “Little Italy” director Donald Petrie is the man behind “Miss Congeniality” (2000) and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (2003).
Those were better movies. This is an extra-cheesy and terrible film, but there IS a certain comfort-viewing pleasure to be had from watching the wonderful cast gamely attempting to sell exchanges such as this:
“There’s an old Italian saying I learned from my nonna: ‘If you want it you have to put a ring on it.’ ”
“What was your grandmother’s name, Beyonce?”
My favorite groaner moment takes place during a backyard barbecue, where everyone drinks Peroni beer and makes sure the labels face the camera. As the hubby tends to the grill, the wife comes out with a box of pastries and says, “I almost forgot the nice cannolis.”
They kiss, and the husband says “Ew!” and makes a face, presumably because his wife has bad breath. He happens to have a pack of gum nearby just so he can hand it to his wife and say:
“Take the gum, leave the cannoli.”
Wow! You can tear a hamstring making a stretch like that.
Our story opens with Hayden Christensen’s Leo and Emma Roberts’ Nikki sharing narration duties as they recall their idyllic childhood days as best friends whose families operated the popular Pizza Napoli restaurant in the Little Italy neighborhood of Toronto.
The kitchen is jam-packed with family caricatures, I mean characters, I mean both. Nikki’s pop Sal (Adam Ferrara) and Leo’s dad Vinny (Gary Basaraba) are best friends and partners in the restaurant. Danny Aiello is Leo’s grandpa Carlo; Alyssa Milano is Nikki’s mom, Dora; Andrea Martin is Nikki’s grandmother, Franca.
When asked for the secret to her culinary success, Franca says: “Every time I make-ah the sauce, I say three Hail Marys!”
No really. She really says that.
MORE FROM RICHARD ROEPER
The flashback concludes on the eve of a big Best Pizza contest. In the present, we’re told Sal and Vinny won that contest all those years ago — but a feud was ignited, and for years they’ve been operating competing, side-by-side pizzerias while exchanging insults.
Grown-up Leo (Christensen) still works at the family restaurant and tends bar at the neighborhood hangout, Luigi’s. Nikki (Roberts) has moved to London and is training to become a chef — but she has to return home for the first time in five years, for reasons of plot development.
We know what’s next, right? Leo and Nikki will do the time-honored romantic comedy dance, with familiar steps such as the almost-kiss; the mutual denial of their feelings; the wisecracking comic-relief best friends weighing in; the lovely dinner date, the big fight, etc., etc.
In the meantime, Nikki’s grandmother Franca and Leo’s grandpa Carlo are having clandestine meetings and even contemplating romance, despite the ongoing war between their adult sons. (Franca, worrying their cover will be blown when she meets up with Carlo at a Starbucks: “We’re the only ones here without the computer and how you say, the fancy phones!”)
Hmmm, maybe if Nikki and Leo can find a way to overcome their differences and admit they’re in love, there might be a chance for their fathers to put an end to the senseless feud between their families!
One can only hope Leo tells Nikki about his true feelings before she boards a plane back to England. Because once Nikki is at the airport, there’s absolutely no other way to reach her, unless …
What if Leo made a mad dash through the city to get to the terminal and stop Nikki in person?
What if their extended families came along for the chase, preferably in slapstick comedic fashion, e.g., the oldest among them commandeering one of those motorized carts?
What if all activity at the terminal came to a halt as Leo delivered an impassioned speech to a skeptical Nikki, telling her, “I’m not afraid to tell you, I’m in love with you. I always have been, I always will be”?
What if a sassy black female security agent was in place to say things to Nikki such as, “Girl, go to London, don’t change your plans for no man!” and then, post-speech, “What’s it gonna be, girl?”
Sure, it would be the first time a rom-com took the bold step of an airport finale — BUT IT JUST MIGHT WORK.
Lionsgate Premiere presents a film directed by Donald Petrie and written by Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani. Rated PG (for some sexual references). Running time: 102 minutes. Now showing at the Pickwick in Park Ridge and on demand.