Italy’s current political scandals are a double-edged sword for “Whatsoeverly,” the bigscreen version of Antonio Albanese’s popular TV satire about a venal and vulgar Italian politico. They help, because clever marketing playfully draws parallels while producers deny any resemblance between the protag and Italy’s Teflon prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. They hurt, because Giulio Manfredonia’s cartoonish sendup lacks the necessary sharpness to really skewer the Italian political scene. Opening weekend made an impressive $7,350,000, yet despite a Berlinale slot, it’s doubtful the coarse localized humor will translate for offshore auds who expect such vinegar to have more bite.
Albanese created the character of Cetto La Qualunque (literally, Cetto the Whatever) in 2003, as a way to satirize stereotypes of southern Italian corruption and crudeness. Among the biggest problems with this leap from the smallscreen is that there’s precious little new here and no intelligent ribbing. Calabrians sensitive to how their region is regularly portrayed may be offended by the typecasting, which unlike the far better laffer “Welcome to the South,” seems to suggest that overly obvious caricatures somehow prove the scripters’ politically correct bona fides.
It worked for Borat because the outrageousness felt fresh and truly shocking, but here the characters are only a small step removed from the denizens of “Jersey Shore.” Grandiloquent vulgarian Cetto (Albanese) returns to his Calabrian coastal town after living the good life in South America. He’s brought along a bombshell he calls Cosa, meaning “thing” (Veronica Da Silva), infuriating his screechy leopard-print-clad wife Carmen (Lorenza Indovina).
Cetto is happy to settle back into his Italian home (designed in tasteless post-baroque opulence by p.d. Marco Belluzzi) but his cronies inform him that the law is beginning to crack down on all the abusive practices — illegal construction, nonpayment of taxes, etc. — that made him rich, and characterize popular perceptions of southern Italians. To forestall a disaster scenario, they convince him to run for mayor, which Cetto takes to with singular energy, creating the Party “du Pilu” (Calabrian slang best interpreted as “booty” or “tail”) with campaign slogans like “I have no dream, but I like some booty!”
To the pic’s detriment, the accusations against Berlusconi currently riveting the nation are far sleazier than anything onscreen, and Italians themselves are slowly shifting from amusement to shame. Albanese did well to avoid overt resemblances between Cetto and Berlusconi, since he’s looking to expose a general condition rather than a single politician, but for this kind of satire to work for 90 minutes, he needs to sharpen his claws.
Cetto’s penchant for maladroitly turning words into adverbs will be difficult to translate, and some jokes are bound to fall flat with nonlocals unfamiliar with the connotations of regional accents. Perfs are appropriately over-the-top with the sole exception of Sergio Rubini, whose controlled turn as Cetto’s political adviser Jerry seems primed for a better, more deviously outlandish movie.
Belluzzi’s sets and Roberto Chiocchi’s eye-popping costumes, the latter incrementally overwhelming the color palette with purple and gold, are some of the pic’s most enjoyably comical elements, and the musicians known as Banda Osiris, as always, cleverly calibrate their style to the themes at hand.