Part caper, part romance, “Night Bus” isn’t quite the smooth ride it wants to be, though the elements are there and the passenger list is first-rate. Keeping the journey all on track is where Italo helmer Davide Marengo goes astray, pitching characters at uneven levels and then neglecting to build tension. Still, this tale of a duplicitous vixen trying to hold onto the wads of cash that fall into her hands while staving off secret agents and her own unlikely emotional involvement makes for a pleasant time-passer. Respectable local biz could connect to Italo fest bookings.
A host of shady characters are after a microchip containing incriminating evidence against a bigwig in Poland. Carlo Matera (Ennio Fantastichini) is the ex-secret serviceman hired to retrieve it, but the fortune he’s been given to buy it back, along with the chip itself, get into the hands of ruthless nightclub proprietor Andrea (Ivan Franek). Small-time player Leila (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) cons the conman, not realizing the stash he’s got until after she’s run off with the briefcase.
Now that she’s got the dough, she’s not willing to let it go so easily, eluding not just Carlo but two sadistic agents playing for the other side, Diolaiti (Roberto Citran) and Garofano (Francesco Pannofino). Fleeing into a night bus driven by unlucky gambler Franz (Valerio Mastandrea), Leila thinks she can play the guy for a sap, using him as a good Samaritan until she can make her escape.
With so many balls in the air, it’s not always easy for Marengo to keep them perfectly balanced, and a few get tossed either too high or dropped along the way. Diolaiti and Garofano are meant to provide both chills and laughs, but their over-the-top good cop/bad cop act feels lifted from another pic. Sad-eyed Carlo is imbued with great depth thanks to Fantastichini’s warm and knowing perf, though throwing in a last-minute subplot involving an ex-flame (Anna Romantowska) feels like a major detour.
As the patsy, Mastandrea manages to give personality to a figure who could easily have been a mere foil for the action, nicely playing off Mezzogiorno’s two-faced grifter. Leila is undoubtedly the soul of the picture, switching identities and stories nearly as often as Brigid O’Shaughnessy,and confidently relying on her considerable sex appeal to nudge the action into place while enjoying the thrill of the chase.
Auds too will find the pursuit agreeable, though Marengo has difficulty maintaining the build-up, and he’s especially let down by pedestrian editing during a bus chase that should deliver more pow.
Music also plays against tension, with bouncy, jazzy numbers that derail mood. However, if nothing else, comparisons between “Night Bus” and Marengo’s previous “Craj — Tomorrow” prove the up-and-coming helmer’s versatility and ability. Gratuitous Polish scenes are undoubtedly thrown in to fulfill contractual obligations to the co-producing nation.