Ricky Tognazzi's "La Scorta" topped the Italian box office charts for weeks, thanks to its skill in capturing the country's current political climate in an entertaining action film format. Though local references to real people and newspaper headlines are most meaningful to Italians, pic has a strong reservoir of energy and a fast American rhythm that can carry over to offshore auds.

Ricky Tognazzi’s “La Scorta” topped the Italian box office charts for weeks, thanks to its skill in capturing the country’s current political climate in an entertaining action film format. Though local references to real people and newspaper headlines are most meaningful to Italians, pic has a strong reservoir of energy and a fast American rhythm that can carry over to offshore auds.

It’s most memorable for its convincing individual characterizations and relentless atmosphere of tension, in which the winner in Italy’s ongoing good-vs.-evil contest is far from certain.

The story is told from the point of view of a team of four dedicated young policemen — depicted as the unsung heroes who risk their lives protecting Mafia targets. They don’t always succeed.

When a state attorney working on a sensitive political case is blown away, along with one of his bodyguards, magistrate Carlo Cecchi is sent to Sicily from northern Italy to replace him.

Tognazzi skillfully juggles the team’s personal lives with their selfless dedication to the magistrate. The members of Cecchi’s escort are carefully individualized, building up sympathy — and apprehension — for each.

Enrico Lo Verso (“The Stolen Children”) braves his young wife’s wrath to lead the team. Claudio Amendola has a personal grudge against the hitmen who killed the last state prosecutor, whom he considered a friend. Tony Sperandeo has a comic love interest; neophyte Ricky Memphis is so scared he wants to transfer out.

The icebetween Cecchi and his escort is quickly broken and the team goes from respecting the man to identifying with his work.

As Cecchi ventures deeper into the Sicilian morass, his superiors begin to get worried and attempt to impede the investigation. He convinces his trusty escort to secretly help him wiretap and shadow suspects. After the powers-that-be unmask them, they strip the prosecutor of all authority and force him to bid a sad farewell to his crew.

Given the film’s theme, there is actually very little violence, gunfights or bombings. Tognazzi keeps the tension high simply by showing the daily stress involved in guarding the life of a high-profile investigator. These generally culminate in action sequences edited “all’americana.” In one of these, the escorts are unable to open a garage gate with the remote control device. Suspecting an ambush, the bodyguards swing into red alert — all for a false alarm. The gate finally swings open.

Much of the film is based on reality, and Simona Izzo and Graziano Diana’s script generally uses this documentary foundation to its advantage. However, the story is so plausibly familiar for readers of Italian newspapers that much of it can be foreseen in advance.

Following a recent trend toward greater realism in the dialogue, “La Scorta” characterizes each guard by his accent and regional “personality.” Though it will be largely lost offshore, the technique has given pic a leg up in Italy, where auds are delighted by Memphis’ Roman cynicism, Amendola’s Sicilian temper and so on. Stage thesp Carlo Cecchi, in contrast, plays the prosecutor with a timeless Shakespearian nobility that is a little over the top.

The Bodyguards

Italian

Production

An Istituto Luce-Italnoleggio Cinematografico (Italy) release of a Claudio Bonivento production. World sales, Intra Films. Produced by Claudio Bonivento. Directed by Ricky Tognazzi. Screenplay, Graziano Diana, Simona Izzo.

Crew

Camera (color), Alessio Gelsini; editor, Carla Simoncelli; music, Ennio Morricone; art director, Mariangela Capuano. Reviewed at Adriano Cinema in Rome, May 4, 1993. (In Cannes Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 95 min.

Cast

Angelo - Claudio Amendola
Andrea - Enrico Lo Verso
Judge - Carlo Cecchi
Fabio - Ricky Memphis
Raffaele - Tony Sperandeo
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