More of a bright little Roman candle than a full-on pyrotechnic onslaught, George Zaloom’s “The Whole Shebang” is a low-key, agreeable romantic comedy about the adventures in amour and ammo of a New Jersey-based fireworks manufacturing clan. Feature debut of docu producer known for “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” and “Frank Capra: An American Dream” mixes a small fraction of the former’s firepower and a good bit of the sentimentality found in the work of the latter’s subject into a conventional ethnic sparkler that may actually shine brighter on cable than the bigscreen.
After the heir apparent to Neptune, N.J.’s Bazinni & Son fireworks clan, accidentally blows himself sky high during extra-marital sex in the work shed, Pop Bazinni (Giancarlo Giannini) writes to his sister in Naples for a replacement from the family. She sends lovesick cousin Giovanni (Stanley Tucci), whose comical and operatically ill-conceived attempts at suicide over the sultry Maria (Jo Champa) have thus far been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, widow Val (Bridget Fonda) is wooed by lummox Joey Zito (Anthony DeSando) from Bazinni’s upscale competition in a plot masterminded by matriarch Lady Zito (Anna Maria Alberghetti) to force Pop to divulge the secret blends of saltpeter and charcoal that make his pyrotechnics special.
Whole chunks play like a showcase for Tucci’s shtick, which comes across as part Inspector Clouseau, part Roberto Benigni (pic mixes Italian and heavily accented English in about equal measure). His discomfited antics after mistakenly taking a handful of laxatives in yet another ill-fated suicide attempt provoke pic’s biggest laughs. Also fine are Giannini’s complex physical histrionics and elaborate, nearly indecipherable English.
Zaloom proves adept at comedy, although for every genuinely funny bit of business there’s seemingly an equal and opposite misfire.
Tech credits are incandescent, with Jacek Laskus’ camera capturing both the dreariness of the Bazinni compound (Vancouver subbed for New Jersey) and the bright colors of the fireworks (a fireworks competish was actually shot in Naples) with equal pungency. Per helmer, story was inspired by real-life Fireworks by Grucci outfit, listed as special consultants on pic.