One of the Italian commercial mainstream’s most dependable hitmakers, Carlo Verdone delivers a minor entry with “A Chinese in a Coma.” Centered on a “Broadway Danny Rose”-type agent with a talent-free client roster, this story of friendship and ingratitude is entertaining enough at the outset but becomes unconvincing as it takes a more melancholy turn. Pic, released in Italy at the beginning of the month, is struggling.
Verdone plays Ercole Preziosi, whose agency represents a sorry bunch of lackluster girl groups, inept magicians and outmoded comedians. When his star standup is involved in a car accident en route to a show, Ercole gives his personable young driver, Nicola (Beppe Fiorello), a shot at performing. Nicola struts his way to instant success, with his singular brand of comedy and in-your-face sex talk making him a cult figure overnight.
One of the script’s weaknesses is that the transitions are awkwardly achieved. Overcoming his stage fright in an instant, Nicola takes command of the audience. Similarly, his transformation from being loyal, kind and obliging with Ercole to being demanding and insensitive is far too abrupt, as is the agent’s switch from cocky impresario to pathetic loser. Biggest problem is the material: Nicola’s shtick is too unremarkable to make him credible as a latter-day Lenny Bruce who takes audiences by storm and has a stream of babes panting for his favors.
The main strength, as always in Verdone’s films, is the star himself. And while much of the humor this time is easy and vulgar, there are enough genuine laughs, particularly in the early going, to make Ercole a worthy addition to Verdone’s extended gallery of affably crass Romans. But in this, his 17th feature, Verdone sorely needs to upgrade his technical collaborators. Pic’s pedestrian visuals and lifeless cutting underline the inadequacy of the material.