After the disappointing performance of his cowboy outing “My West” last Christmas, Leonardo Pieraccioni’s “The Fish in Love” returns to the formula of his record-breaking comedies “The Cyclone” and “Fireworks.” Inspired by the actor-director’s meteoric rise to B.O. champion, this tale of an Everyman burned by sudden success but redeemed by love strives to muster a whimsical spirit. But it remains a pedestrian effort, full of calculated charm and lacking the spontaneity and freshness that lifted Pieraccioni’s earlier hits. Local auds likely will turn out in force, but foreign exposure looks minimal.
A sweet-natured carpenter with a lifelong passion for writing fiction, Arturo (Pieraccioni) gets lucky when his children’s stories land in the lap of a powerful publisher (Patrizia Loreti). The collection — titled “The Fish in Love” — takes the Italian market by storm and segues quickly to international success. But the whirl of launch parties and promotional tours soon gets to him.
Arturo retreats to his hotel, where a mix-up has him sharing a twin suite with cool beauty Matilde (Argentinian model Yamila Diaz), and an unlikely passion ensues. But when he learns the next day that Matilde is hitched, Arturo abruptly retreats from the limelight. He builds a secluded house in the woods — the kingdom of tranquillity from his stories — but his reclusive existence receives a jolt when Matilde shows up months later with a baby that may be his.
Even more than in his previous pics, Pieraccioni (aided by regular co-scripter Giovanni Veronesi) assembles elements designed to serve his screen persona of lovable, all-round nice guy, this time going for gold with the ultimate accessory of a cherubic blond baby. Doting and patient, Arturo selflessly dispenses his newfound riches to his impoverished parents, luckless uncle and blundering friends, rejects the shallow world of the rich and famous and withdraws to lick his romantic wounds in a storybook cottage straight out of “Hansel and Gretel.”
While the production looks sharp thanks to Arnaldo Catinari’s accomplished lensing, the script lacks wit, the comedy is often labored and the storytelling has no economy, taking an inordinate amount of time to recount very little. None of the supporting cast makes much of a mark, least of all babe du jour Diaz, the latest in a series of catwalk recruits with negligible acting ability. All are employed merely to make Pieraccioni look good.