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Honolulu Baby

Lacking the mega-budgets to copy American digital f/x, a number of Italian filmmakers have begun to experiment with new technology in an innovative, artisanal way. Helmer-comic Maurizio Nichetti got a head start in his 1991 mixed cartoon/live-action film "Volere Volare."

Lacking the mega-budgets to copy American digital f/x, a number of Italian filmmakers have begun to experiment with new technology in an innovative, artisanal way. Helmer-comic Maurizio Nichetti got a head start in his 1991 mixed cartoon/live-action film “Volere Volare.” His “Honolulu Baby” is the first Italo film that, lensed in Super-35mm, has been completed entirely on digital. Surprisingly but wisely, this lightweight comedy about a Milanese office worker keeps the high tech discreetly in the background in the service of an enjoyable, if not side-splitting, fantasy.

Pic is also distinguished by its unique blend of four lingos — Italian, Spanish, French and pidgin English. As most of the jokes and storytelling are highly visual, Nichetti pulls off a multilingual feat that should make pic more appetizing offshore, where RAI Trade has already sold it widely. Each territory is free to add the amount of subtitles it deems fit for comprehension, but English speakers should get the gist sans effort.

Given all this, it’s disappointing that the story doesn’t fly as high as the filmmaker’s fancy. Ironically, the one masterful skit is an insert from Nichetti’s 1979 directing bow, “Ratataplan,” reprised during the opening credits. In it, a young Nichetti shows up inexcusably late for a stuffy job interview at a multinational company.Twenty years on, Colombo (Nichetti) fears for his job at a very similar company. The anxiety-ridden Italo employees are forced to speak English. Colombo’s sweet wife, Margarita (played by sunny Portuguese thesp Maria de Medeiros), who is earnestly pursuing a career as a McDonald’s manager, demands they practice English at home, too.

When the company sends Colombo off — ostensibly to look for oil — to Melancias, a South American backwater from which no employee has ever returned, they think it’s the end of the line. But lo and behold, the town is actually a paradise of gorgeous, barely-clad women starved for men. The only male around is Cri-Cri (a cheerfully sporty Jean Rochefort), who admits that 300 femmes are too much for even a Frenchman to handle. While this sounds like a standard male fantasy, Nichetti’s delicacy in describing the seesaw of male-female relations turns the fairy tale around in favor of the sexually aggressive ladies. Apart from Italo thesp Giulia Weber, core cast is all well-known Spanish actresses.

One of the most visual of Italian directors, Nichetti uses the surreal possibilities inherent in digital to give free rein to his cartoon-type fantasy. In his bushy mustache, round glasses and white socks, he remains faithful to his decades-old comic persona. Yet many sight gags, like a humorous romp au naturel by Gabriela (Weber), are too stale to ignite. There are plenty of laughs in the film, but none of the comic genius hinted at in Nichetti’s early work.

Title comes from a catchy tune in Laurel and Hardy’s 1933 feature (excerpted) “Sons of the Desert.” Carlo Siliotto supplies a fine music score based on percussion and ethnic flavors. The subtly effective f/x work, as well as the editing, is by Massimo Germoglio of Milan’s Rumblefish.

Honolulu Baby

Italy

  • Production: A Mikado release of a Cidif production, in association with RAI Cinema. (International sales: RAI Trade, Rome.) Produced by Silvio Sardi. Executive producer, Giorgio Leopardi. Directed by Maurizio Nichetti. Screenplay, Nichetti, Richard Haber, Giovanna Carrassi.
  • Crew: Camera (color, Digitalscope widescreen), Saverio Guarna; editor, Massimo Germoglio; music, Carlo Siliotto; production designer, Lorenzo Baraldi; costume designer, Donatella Cianchetti; sound (Dolby Digital), Tiziano Crotti; digital effects, Germoglio; casting, Beatrice Kruger. Reviewed at Quattro Fontane Cinema, Rome, March 14, 2001. Running time: 91 MIN.
  • With: Alberto Colombo - Maurizio Nichetti Margarita - Maria de Medeiros Cri-Cri - Jean Rochefort Marilda - Paulina Galvez Gabriela - Giulia Weber <B>With: </B>Massimo Wertmuller, Renato Scarpa, Dorotea Brandin, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Mariana Aguilera, Susana Lazaro, Marta Gil, Johara Valerie Racz.<br>(Italian, Spanish, French and pidgin English dialogue.)