Passion without oomph doesn't go very far, and neither will Carlo Mazzacurati's unexciting laffer.

Passion without oomph doesn’t go very far, and neither will Carlo Mazzacurati’s unexciting laffer “The Passion.” While it milks a few minor yucks out of the Italo film industry, this semi-satirical tale of a blocked director blackmailed into helming a small-town passion play is like processed mozzarella: disappointingly bland, only slightly cheesy and instantly forgettable. Considering its thoroughly mainstream appeal, the art crowd may well wonder why it popped up in a Venice competish slot. Home biz, however, will be strong, and the pic’s family-friendly, generic Christian slant guarantees perpetual TV rotation at Easter.

Helmer Gianni Dubois (Silvio Orlando, “Giovanna’s Father,” at his most nebbishy) hasn’t made a movie in five years: he’s supposed to write a story for young TV starlet Flaminia (Cristiana Capotondi), but the creative juices aren’t flowing. On the phone with producer Pippo (Fausto Russo Alesi) he starts making up a scenario from what he sees around him. This could have developed into a nice device, but Mazzacurati flirts with the possibilities and then lets it drop. The whole film is littered with such unrealized potential (though some pieces should never have been introduced at all, such as a couple of superannuated Swedish hippie hitchhikers).

When the bathroom pipes in Gianni’s Tuscan holiday home burst and damage a fresco in the adjacent church, the village mayor (Stefania Sandrelli) and her partner (Marco Messeri) threaten legal action unless he agrees to resurrect the town’s long-dormant Good Friday pageant, just five days away. The weak-willed helmer goes into a funk, so well-meaning ex-con Ramiro (Giuseppe Battiston) steps in to organize the cast, including giving the Jesus role to local weatherman and histrionic thesp Abbruscati (Corrado Guzzanti, looking like an escapee from an “Addams Family” convention).

Complications unsurprisingly ensue, but Mazzacurati provides neither a longed-for touch of mayhem nor any genuine emotional underpinning, and Gianni’s milquetoast character, unencumbered by wit, is a dead weight at the pic’s center. Nothing’s gained from a sequence shot in Norway — Gianni invents a story for Flaminia extrapolating what he imagines is the life of the village’s Polish resident Caterina (Kasia Smutniak, superfluous apart from her beauty) — unless it was a nice Scandinavian vacation for some crew members.

Though an uneven director, Mazzacurati has done much better (“The Right Distance”), and while he’s apparently trying for the kind of comedic satire associated with Italian cinema’s golden age, “The Passion” is all broad fuzzy strokes with no sharp edges. Poor Maria Paiato is turned into a ridiculously exaggerated Sarah Bernhardt wannabe, while Sandrelli and Messeri gamely suffer through an embarrassing romp under the sheets accompanied by wild-boar squeals.

Master lenser Luca Bigazzi helps to make it all mildly attractive, though he appears to be on autopilot. Not so composer Carlo Crivelli, whose harp- and flute-filled orchestrations, while matching the film’s aspirations, are cheaply manipulative.

The Passion

Italy

Production

An 01 Distribution release of a Fandango production, in collaboration with Rai Cinema. (International sales: Fandango Portobello, London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci. Directed by Carlo Mazzacurati. Screenplay, Umberto Contarello, Doriana Leondeff, Marco Pettenello, Mazzacurati.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Luca Bigazzi; editors, Paolo Cottignola, Clelio Benevento; music, Carlo Crivelli; production designer, Giancarlo Basili; costume designer, Francesca Sartori; sound (Dolby Digital), Remo Ugolinelli, Alessandro Palmerini, Danilo Moroni; assistant director, Davide Bertoni; casting, Anna Maria Sambucco. Reviewed at Sala Rai Cinema, Rome, Aug. 27, 2010 (In Venice Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Silvio Orlando, Giuseppe Battiston, Corrado Guzzanti, Cristiana Capotondi, Stefania Sandrelli, Kasia Smutniak, Maria Paiato, Marco Messeri, Giovanni Mascherini, Fausto Russo Alesi.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more