A generally charming romantic comedy about a vendetta that goes wrong, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Guns” is a sweet-natured, disarming Australian-Greek co-production. Polished though uneven item has been in release in Greece since the beginning of the year and has amassed highly respectable box office grosses there, partly due to showcasing the first screen role of phenomenally popular TV entertainer Lakis Lazopoulos. In the rest of the world, where Lazopoulos is unknown outside the Greek diaspora, the lightness of the material and the mixture of genres suggests modest theatrical returns with better prospects in ancillary.
Lazopoulos enacts two sharply differentiated characters: a diffident, peace-loving schoolteacher and his lazy, macho twin brother. Pic starts on the island of Crete in 1943, where pro- and anti-fascists are battling one another. One victim is Alexandros, who, after being shot by Vasilli Philipakis, dies in the arms of his wife, Maria (Noni Ioannidou); Maria vows vengeance on Vasilli and raises her sons and, in later years, her twin grandsons, to continue her vendetta.
In the present day, Vasilli (Alexi Anthopoulos), a prosperous businessman, is spotted by some elderly Cretans in Melbourne, Australia. They alert Maria that the villain has been found, and it’s up to the elder grandson, Manos, to kill the fugitive. But Manos isn’t the killing kind; he’s a village schoolteacher, a gentle soul and the exact opposite of his brother, George, a gun-toting drunk.
Manos arrives in Melbourne and is welcomed by Stephanos (John Bluthal), an old family friend whose daughter, Nicki (Zoe Carides), a single mother, was once in love with him; Nicki’s hostile at first, but Manos manages to convince her he’s a decent guy, while her teenage daughter, Katerina (Claudia Buttazzoni), wonders if perhaps Manos might really be her father. While all this is going on, the vendetta takes very much a back seat, and some rather forced comedy involving an amorous neighbor provides the film’s least attractive moments.
Things pick up with the unexpected arrival of George, who reckons Manos will never get around to killing Vasilli and is perfectly willing to fill the avenger role. There’s some funny stuff in which the brothers are mistaken for each other, and things head for a satisfactory wrap when the action returns to Crete for some unexpected last-minute revelations.
Amiable pic begins and ends strongly, but there’s a waftiness and lack of urgency in the middle section. Lazopoulos is strong in both his roles, while Bluthal makes the wily old Stephanos a thoroughly engaging character. Carides and Buttazzoni make for an attractive and feisty mother and daughter.
Director John Tatoulis, best known for his beautifully crafted family pic “The Silver Brumby” (which toplined Russell Crowe), essays comedy for the first time with generally satisfactory results, though this is a film of chuckles rather than outright laughs. Production values are solid, whether depicting the suburbs of Melbourne or a sleepy village on Crete.