"Harlem Aria," a semi-cloying Gotham fable about a "slow," sheltered mama's boy endowed with a ridiculously natural tenor voice suffers from trying to be all things to all auds, but provides enough sap along the way to satisfy the undemanding.

“Harlem Aria,” a semi-cloying Gotham fable about a “slow,” sheltered mama’s boy endowed with a ridiculously natural tenor voice suffers from trying to be all things to all auds, but provides enough sap along the way to satisfy the undemanding. After more than three years on the fest circuit and one distrib deal having fallen through, pic has an uphill fight to stir fresh distrib interest, despite a string of fest audience awards. Cable and vid appear the best performing stages at this point.

Young black opera fan Anton (Gabriel Casseus) not only obsessively listens to tenor arias at home with his protective Auntie (Eyde Byrde), but he can sing them as well. His mental development slightly retarded, Anton has a child’s trusting innocence about the outside world, which becomes a danger when he decides to split from Auntie, explore the streets and try to find a way to fly to his dream destination — Italy.

He’s instantly a prime target for crooks and cons, including hustler Wes (Damon Wayans), who manages to both take Anton’s money and insinuate himself into his life. Wes’ plans with Anton, who would at best seem a one-time target, seem unclear. The contrived plot, though, works overtime to bring this unlikely twosome together, along with Matthew (Christian Camargo), a classically-trained pianist playing for pennies in a park. When Anton bursts into “La donna e mobile” with Matthew on the ivories, Wes smells a cash cow. Despite pro handling on both sides of he camera, the storytelling and filmmaking ring false, especially, in the characterizations: The shopworn depiction of Anton as some kind of latter-day Tramp with a gratingly wide smile; the stereotyping of Wes as an unrelentingly racist black man who hates everything about whites; Matthew as a lost, confused and jaded white guy who — against all of his own character’s tendencies — puts up with his new-found crew.

With little effort but with most of the (dated) joke lines, Wayans wildly upstages his co-stars. Though Casseus is ostensibly the hero, his forced manner as the sweet Anton becomes a source of irritation. Camargo flatlines as the bitter Matthew, who lives off the fat of his opera singer g.f.’s lifestyle.

Production package is fine for a low-budget indie effort, with a bevy of arias on the soundtrack arranged to appeal to non-specialist auds.

Harlem Aria

Production

A Kintop Pictures/Alive Entertainment/In Motion presentation of a Bent Nail production. Produced by Deeppak Nayar, Philip von Alvensleben. Executive producers, Damon Wayans, Isabell von Alvensleben, Hale Coughlin. Co-producers, Darryl D. Pryor, Linda Moran, Annice Parker. Directed, written by William Jennings.

Crew

Camera (Moviecam color), Keith Smith; editor, Sabine Hoffman; music, Jeff Beal, Fabian Cooke; music supervisor, Michelle Wernick; production designer, Cecil Gentry; art director, Lorenza Arizaga; costume designer, Daniel Glicker; sound (Dolby Digital); supervising sound editors, Elmo Webber, Russell Farmarco; line producer, Rene Bastian; assistant directors, Vincent Maggio, Randy Strauss; casting, Denise Fitzgerald. Reviewed at Pan African Film Festival, Feb. 9, 2003. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Wes - Damon Wayans Anton - Gabriel Casseus Matthew - Christian Camargo Luke - Malik Yoba Fabiano Grazzi - Paul Sorvino Julia - Kristen Wilson Auntie - Eyde Byrde Clarisse - Nicole Ari Parker
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