Well-crafted teen romancer pairing a studious uptown girl and a drag-racing thug marks confident move into features for music-vid and commercials helmer Luca Lucini. Released March 12, this rare case of an Italo pic aimed at high schoolers seems set for a satisfactory domestic run, though it won't likely rev up much biz elsewhere.

A well-crafted teen romancer pairing a studious uptown girl and a drag-racing thug, “Three Steps Over Heaven” marks a confident move into features for music-vid and commercials helmer Luca Lucini. Boosted by fresh performances, pic nearly succeeds in capturing first-love magic but is stilted by an excessively formulaic feel and a script that sometimes talks down to its target audience. Released March 12, this rare case of an Italo pic aimed at high schoolers seems set for a satisfactory domestic run, thanks to aggressive promo and a pulsating soundtrack, though it won’t likely rev up much biz elsewhere.

As a radio DJ starts a jivey running commentary in voiceover, Step (Riccardo Scamarcio) rides his souped-up motorbike and then headbutts a leather-jacketed member of his lowlife posse. Meanwhile, in a preppy all-girls classroom, Babi (Katy Louise Saunders) is shown stealthily text-messaging a Latin assignment to her best friend, Pallina (Maria Chiara Augenti).

Step and Babi soon intersect when the boys crash a party in Rome’s upper-crust Olgiata suburb. As bottles are smashed and hors d’oeuvres flung against the designer wallpaper, Step bullies Babi, who tosses a glass of bubbly in his face. He reacts by sticking her under a running shower.

Their relationship builds from this point, climaxing in a love-making scene in a vacant seaside castle, before a tragic third act twist. Along the way, there’s a vivid nighttime motorcycle race in which Babi rides shotgun behind a wheelie-popping maniac, and a revelatory moment in which Step lets out a dark secret.

Effective, understated turns by relative newcomers Scamarcio (“Best of Youth”) and British-Colombian expat Saunders (“A Journey Called Love”) make the most of the calculatedly conventional script. Pic is based on a more authentic feeling novel that has resonated with love-struck Italo teens.

Tech credits are topnotch, with lenser Manfredo Archinto and editor Fabrizio Rossetti steering clear of overslick music-vid visuals to give pic a more realistic feel. Soundtrack, which includes Brit trip-hop outfit Lamb and Californian rock band Grandaddy, is laced in nicely.

Three Steps Over Heaven

Italy

Production

A Warner Bros. Italia release of a Cattleya Film production, in association with Warner Bros. Pictures Italia. Produced by Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini, Marco Chimenz. Executive producer Francesca Longardi. Directed by Luca Lucini. Screenplay, Federico Moccia, Teresa Ciabatti, based on the book by Federico Moccia.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Manfredo Archinto; editor, Fabrizio Rossetti; music, Francesco De Luca, Alessandro Forti; production designer, Marco Belluzzi; costume designer, Sabina Maglia; sound (Dolby Digital), Antonio Barba. Reviewed at Warner Village Moderno, Rome, March 8, 2004. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Riccardo Scamarcio, Katy Louise Saunders, Mauro Meconi, Maria Chiara Augenti.

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