Muccino's undoubted directing skills seem better suited to others' screenplays.

After his double teaming Stateside with Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Seven Pounds,” Italo helmer Gabriele Muccino may not receive a triumphal homecoming with “Kiss Me Again.” Follow-up to his 2001 hit, “The Last Kiss,” revisits the earlier pic’s characters, yet the men have barely matured and the women are largely hormonal harridans. Muccino’s undoubted directing skills seem better suited to others’ screenplays, and it’s questionable whether local biz for the Jan. 29 release will rival the previous pic’s, especially with “Avatar” still relatively fresh in theaters.

“The Last Kiss” took home the audience award at Sundance in 2002, but auds are unlikely to remember the protags with enough affection to endorse a new visit. The overdramatized shenanigans of this group of friends pushing 40 simply won’t ring true to offshore viewers, even given the axiom that Italians are more voluble than their American counterparts. Unlike those in, for example, “The Big Chill,” whose intelligent characters continue to resonate, Muccino’s aren’t especially sympathetic, or real.

Ten years earlier, Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) was having relationship jitters; now, he’s divorced from Giulia (Vittoria Puccini, in the role created by the more charismatic Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and living with 25-year-old Anna (Francesca Valtorta). A good father to daughter Sveva (Sara Girolami), Carlo still doesn’t know how to express, let alone get, what he wants: reconciliation with his ex-wife.

The creeping responsibilities of adulthood continue to rub Carlo and his buddies the wrong way; the only person capable of a truthful conversation is Livia (Sabrina Impacciatore), though the script punishes her severely for her level-headedness. She’s in an inexplicable relationship with manic-depressive Paolo (Claudio Santamaria) but has to cope with the return of ex-hubbie Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti), who turns up a decade afterhaving left her.

The one infertile couple, Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino) and Veronica (Daniela Piazza), barely communicate, except by shouting.

In fact, there’s an awful lot of screaming in “Kiss Me Again,” especially by the depressive Paolo. Violent outbursts come thick and fast, generally begun by moody women in thrall to their libidos. While the menfolk do penance for the misdeeds of their youth, they’re allowed forgiveness: A scene where Adriano carries a life-size cross into a church, beatifically meeting Jesus’ gaze, makes a road-to-Damascus parallel that’s hard to take seriously.

Unlike in “The Last Kiss,” Muccino has difficulty finding a balance between his characters, and the weight of each story feels off-kilter. Accorsi gets the lion’s share of the scenes but, though he’s an appealing screen presence, has difficulty making Carlo’s flaws forgivable or sympathetic.

Actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi shows up about 90 minutes in, as a wounded woman tossed aside by an unfaithful husband.

Even before his Stateside success, Muccino proved his helming fluency with pics displaying technical know-how combined with handsome production values. He drops a few balls here while juggling all the stories, but his compositions are never less than slick and attractive. Unfortunately, especially in the pic’s first half, almost every scene has an accompanying song — ranging from Frankie Valli through Jacques Brel to Stevie Wonder — that never bonds sufficiently with the action.

Kiss Me Again

Italy-France

Production

A Medusa Film (in Italy) release of a Fandango (Italy)/Mars Films (France) production, in collaboration with Medusa Film. (International sales: Fandango Portobello Sales, London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci. Directed, written by Gabriele Muccino.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Arnaldo Catinari; editor, Claudio Di Mauro; music, Paolo Buonvino, Jovanotti; production designer, Eugenia Di Napoli; costume designers, Angelica Russo, Gemma Mascagni; sound (Dolby Digital), Gaetano Carito, Gianluca Carbonelli; assistant director, Francesco Vedovati; casting, Vedovati. Reviewed at Cinema Fiamma, Rome, Jan. 25, 2010. Running time: 139 MIN.

With

Stefano Accorsi, Vittoria Puccini, Pierfrancesco Favino, Claudio Santamaria, Giorgio Pasotti, Marco Cocci, Sabrina Impacciatore, Daniela Piazza, Primo Reggiani, Francesca Valtorta, Adriano Giannini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Sara Girolami, Andrea Calligari.

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