A bright, snappy culture-clash farce in the mode of "Desperately Seeking Susan" and its ilk, "Kiss Me, Guido" plays gay and Italian-American stereotypes against one another to good-natured, crowd-pleasing results. Though invention palls a bit in the third act, pic's upbeat prospects should expand beyond gay auds to perform on par with the more successful recent indie comedies.

A bright, snappy culture-clash farce in the mode of “Desperately Seeking Susan” and its ilk, “Kiss Me, Guido” plays gay and Italian-American stereotypes against one another to good-natured, crowd-pleasing results. Though invention palls a bit in the third act, pic’s upbeat prospects should expand beyond gay auds to perform on par with the more successful recent indie comedies.

Opening scenes set up a central Great Divide, between the Bronx world of hetero would-be actor and pizza parlor employee Frankie (Nick Scotti) and the Manhattan gay milieu of stage thesp and choreographer Warren (Anthony Barrile). Latter is way overdue on rent for his spacious Little Italy apartment; over-the-top best friend Terry (Craig Chester) takes it upon himself to place a roommate-wanted ad so Warren won’t lose his flat.

At the same time, Frankie is fed up — still living in his parents’ place, his acting “career” to date consisting of no more than constant imitations of predictable idols De Niro, Pacino and Stallone. The last straw is discovering his smooth-operator brother, Pino (Anthony DeSando), doing the wild thing with the g.f. Frankie had just bought an engagement ring for. It’s off to the subway and another world’s presumed fame and fortune, Bronx be damned.

The two paths cross due to a fundamental misconception: Frankie thinks the roommate ad’s descriptive “GWM” means “Guy With Money,” not “Gay White Male.” When truth finally dawns, he storms out — to Warren’s relief. But Frankie can’t go home again, and the dismally expensive housing market sends him back to Chez Warren for a one-night-only stay that surprises both by working out longer-term.

Several further comic misunderstandings keep subplots percolating. Deciding to help inexperienced Frankie acquire some real acting experience, Warren gets them both cast in a play being directed by his own rather creepy ex-boyfriend (Christopher Lawford). Not only is Frankie’s part gay — which he finds daunting enough — but the helmer and author are hellbent on using a gay actor. Thus, under Warren’s tutelage, skittish Bronx hetero Frankie gets a crash course in both role-playing and cultural sensitivity.

Meanwhile, the rent still isn’t paid. A few sleight-of-hand tricks keep that crisis from boiling over by bringing together Warren’s single, oft-scorned landlady and love machine Pino.

Everyone — including Frankie’s entire, highly shockable family — converges at opening night for the play. Latter is a very funny parody of avant-garde theater, though as shown here it oddly seems more like a staged reading than the gala event script suggests.

Debuting writer-director Tony Vitale (a location manager on several mainstream and indie productions) keeps the dialogue zingy and the complications clever enough, though things get a little sloppy in the final stretch. Time passage is poorly indicated, final tying of loose ends a tad hasty. Still, pic’s high spirits carry the day. Underlying anti-homophobia message gets across sans heavy-handedness, particularly in a funny but pointed scene in which Frankie learns firsthand about gay-baiting.

With each role a stereotype of some sort, they cancel out any possible offensiveness, and provide juicy opportunities for a solid cast. The mild parody of an insular gay community packs less genial punch than the often-hilarious riffs on Italo-American swagger and family histrionics. Scotti is a recording artist (first boostered by Madonna) whose first film role draws on smoking good looks as well as a deft comic touch; the more experienced DeSando’s macho posturings as Pino are priceless. Among support players, standouts are Molly Price as the ultimate in abrasive landlords, and David Deblinger as a playwright so incredibly pretentious he refuses to have a spoken name.

Lensing is pro, editing sharp, other tech aspects nicely handled. Nonstop vintage disco tunes — one area where Italo-American and gay tastes agree — lend pic further verve.

Kiss Me, Guido

Production

A Capitol Films/Kardana Films presentation of a Redeemable Features production. Produced by Ira Deutchman, Christine Vachon. Executive producers, Jane Barclay, Tom Carouso, Sharon Harel, Christopher Lawford. Directed, written by Tony Vitale.

Crew

Camera (color), Claudia Raschke; editor, Alexander Hall; music supervisor, Randall Poster; production design, Jeffrey Rathaus; costumes, Victoria Farrell; line producer, Katie Roumel; casting, Hopkins, Smith and Barden. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 21, 1997. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Frankie ..... Nick Scotti Warren ..... Anthony Barrile Pino ..... Anthony DeSando Terry ..... Craig Chester Joey Chips ..... Dominick Lombardozzi Meryl ..... Molly Price Dakota ..... Christopher Lawford "#" ..... .David Deblinger

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