Rent-A-Husband

Renting a script doctor rather than a spouse might have worked better for helmer Ilaria Borrelli's cartoonish feature debut "Rent-a-Husband." As the comedy is populated by high-pitched caricatures rarely glimpsed outside TV sitcoms, only a major rewrite could have lifted it to humor levels it so frantically seeks. Pic uses a genuine handyman service as the gimmick, but promptly ditches originality for the tale of a woman discovering her husband has a second family.

With:
With: Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Pierfrancesco Favino, Brooke Shields, Chevy Chase, Diego Serrano, Franco Javarone, James Falzone, Lauren Martin, Jillian Stacom, John Tormey, Jennifer Macaluso, Ray Iannicelli, Charlotte J. Colavin, Veanne Cox.

Renting a script doctor rather than a spouse might have worked better for helmer Ilaria Borrelli’s cartoonish feature debut “Rent-a-Husband.” As the comedy is populated by high-pitched caricatures rarely glimpsed outside TV sitcoms, only a major rewrite could have lifted it to humor levels it so frantically seeks. Pic uses a genuine handyman service as the gimmick, but promptly ditches originality for the tale of a woman discovering her husband has a second family. Marquee names paired with a serious marketing campaign will fill seats in the first weeks, but wobbly legs won’t stand for much longer. English language version’s sole hope rests in straight-to-vid market.

Essaying the only role with a whiff of dimension, Maria Grazia Cucinotta stars as Maria, artisan sandal maker on the Mediterranean island of Procida. Hubby Vincenzo (Pierfrancesco Favino) left to find fame and fortune as a sculptor in New York, but until recently he stayed in contact and sent money home. After months without a word, Maria decides to pack up the kids and find out what’s happened.

The provincial family’s arrival in Times Square allows Borrelli to indulge in the usual wide-eyed-in-New York shtick, with requisite rude bikers and crazy street folk. Maria discovers the address Vincenzo gave her no longer exists, and with the help of Raoul, the only friendly guy in Manhattan (Diego Serrano, looking good but helpless in such a goofy role), she papers the town looking for her man.

A chance glimpse inside an art gallery reveals Vincenzo sitting with a very pregnant Charlene (Brooke Shields) — turns out he’s a bigamist. The consequent trauma induces early labor, but since lily-livered Vincenzo has momentarily fled, Maria must partner her fellow wife in the delivery room. Borrelli’s freneticism goes wild here as Charlene shrieks, the buffoonish nurses scream and the camera spins.

With no subtlety left standing and no stereotype unplayed, Chevy Chase enters as Paul Parmisan, host of a home shopping channel who has promised to sell one of Vincenzo’s sculptures on the tube. Maria is roped in as the show’s mannequin, while Charlene gets friendly with Raoul, now employed as a helpful handyman with the Rent-a-Husband agency.

With a script that doesn’t give the actors much to work with, the caricatures cause more groans than chuckles. The presence of Shields and Chase raises the specter of a new version of “I’m a Celebrity — Get Me Out of Here!” Shields in particular indulges in outrageous mugging as the low class, shrill Charlene, made more disconnected by dubbing in Italian version seen. Chase looks as tired as the role he’s been handed.

Pic was shot mostly in English; dubbing of Italo version is adequate. The opening aerial shot coming off the water near Procida entices, but lensing rarely meets its match again. Transfer from digital is faultless.

Rent-A-Husband

Italy

Production: A Medusa release of a Cristaldi Pictures production, in collaboration with Medusa Film. (International sales: William Morris Independent, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Massimo Cristaldi. Directed, written by Ilaria Borrelli.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DV-to-35mm), Paolo Ferrari; editor, Colleen Sharp; music, Guido Freddi; production designer, Betsy McDonald, Marta Zani; costume designer, Marie Abma , Bettina Bimbi; sound (DTS), Anton Gold, Romeo Buccheri; casting (New York), Avy Kaufman. Reviewed at Cinema Fiamma, Rome, March 30, 2004. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Pierfrancesco Favino, Brooke Shields, Chevy Chase, Diego Serrano, Franco Javarone, James Falzone, Lauren Martin, Jillian Stacom, John Tormey, Jennifer Macaluso, Ray Iannicelli, Charlotte J. Colavin, Veanne Cox.

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