Pools of ink have already been spilled in the Italo press about the less-than-warm Venetian reception accorded Vincenzo Marra’s Mr. Ripley-like take on corruption in contempo Rome, “Rush Hour.” Hardly a disaster along the lines of, say, Michele Placido’s “Wherever You Are,” pic does have major problems in the scripting department, uncertain how to present characters and keep them believable. Traffic will be sparse for the few international buyers willing to bother.
It’s obvious from the first scene with Filippo Costa (relative newcomer Michele Lastella) and g.f. Francesca (Giulia Bevilacqua) that the former is a man who thinks there are no consequences to his actions. He’s an officer with the investigative tax police, assigned to ferret out tax evasion and customs fraud, though he views the position as an easy means to increase his bank account through bribes.
An official visit to look over the balance sheets of an art gallery brings him in contact with Catherine (Fanny Ardant), an attractive widow who appears to be as cool and calculating as Costa when she lures him to bed rather than reveal obviously cooked books. Inexplicably, Marra turns her into a weak and pitiful character for pic’s remainder, cutting off any interest in how she figures into the story.
Through Catherine’s social connections, Costa swiftly moves up the ladder of success, plunging into the world of property development with the same calculated lack of scruples he showed in his previous field. But when he plays too high and a businessman (Antonio Gerardi) threatens exposure, Costa sees the tower of deceit begin to topple.
Marra has a good story here, one that’s particularly topical for Italian society, where tax evasion is a national pastime. But nothing he shows feels incisive, as if every scene has been stripped of power. Costa’s all-too-fast rise from provincial nobody to rich wheeler-dealer wants to be colder, the view of the system more destructive, if a point is to be made about the general power-hungry rush towards financial and social gain.
Weakest of all though is the Ardant character, who’s turned into just another wronged woman without a backbone; providing Costa a playmate equal to his own designs would have increased the fun exponentially.
Part of the disappointment comes from the high expectations following Marra’s previous features, including “Vento di terra,” which maintained its focus and sensitivity to the end. Even the lensing here is attractive but bland, handsomely setting the action among Rome’s visual riches without allowing the locale a role as either counterpoint or enabler.