Think of it as “My Big Fat Italian Football Team.” Featherweight sports pic-cum-romantic comedy “Ciao America” reps the second foray into self-distribution (via a partnership with exhib giant National Amusements) for Boston-based filmmaker brothers Frank and Joseph Ciota, whose “The North End” premiered in 1997. Never less than pleasant and genteel, but rarely more, this handsomely produced, dramatically slack fish-out-of-water story looks destined for the small screen (unfortunately impinging on its attractive widescreen compositions), though its brief theatrical run may see modest niche biz in East Coast cities with large Italian-American populations.
Though produced with American funding, pic resembles English-lingo international co-productions, with nary a scene set in the U.S., an entirely Italian crew and the presence of well-known Italian thesps Maurizio Nichetti and Giancarlo Giannini in key supporting roles. In fact, Nichetti (sometimes called the Italian Woody Allen, and perhaps best known for his 1989 pic “The Icicle Thief”) nearly walks off with “Ciao America,” delivering a sidesplittingly funny perf as the flummoxed manager of an American-style football team in a small Italian town. (Pic was lensed predominately in Ferrara, with additional work in Florence and Naples.) Bostonian Lorenzo Primavera (Eddie Malavarca), traveling to Italy at the behest of his late grandfather (Antonio Navarro), is recruited by Giulio Fellini (Nichetti) to coach his fledgling team.
Joseph Ciota’s screenplay is loosely based on the writer’s own experiences coaching American-style football abroad. Pic skimps on many of the expected sports-movie cliches with the football team as the background for the film rather than its focus. Gridiron action shown is among the least urgent ever put on film (though that’s part of the point).
Unfortunately, what gets substituted isn’t always that compelling — namely, the forced romance between Lorenzo and Paola (beautiful Violante Placido, daughter of Simonetta Stefanelli), the daughter of a local university professor. Lorenzo’s blossoming affection for Paola keeps him in Italy beyond his expected departure date, but the scenes between Malavarca and Placido have no real spark.
Pic fares somewhat better with a subplot concerning Lorenzo’s investigation of his family history, during which he discovers the real reasons for his grandfather’s emigration to America. In a lovely turn, the inimitable Giannini appears as Lorenzo’s long-lost granduncle, and there are some truly magnificent landscape shots of the Italian countryside as Lorenzo travels to his family’s home town of Avelino. In pic’s best moments, like Lorenzo’s climactic confrontation with his Americanized father (a spirited Paul Sorvino), there’s a sense of all that the emigrant generation desired for its offspring.
However, Malavarca is not strong enough as the lead and film never quite coheres in spite of director Ciota’s obvious visual talents and the generally fine work his elicits from his Italian cast. Pic’s richness in its observances of local customs and culture is enhanced by Giulio Pietromarchi’s accomplished lensing and Andrea (son of Ennio) Morricone’s fine score.