A local box office hit last year, director/co-scenarist Sydney Sibilia’s “I Can Quit Whenever I Want” is a slick, energetic debut feature that finds a flashy comedic hook on which to hang another critique of patronage and nepotism in Italy’s professional fields. Here, a group of brilliant young academics enter the recreational drug trade when they find all their qualifications can’t guarantee a future in teaching. Though that premise is milked with less wit and ingenuity than one-note farcical glibness, the colorful pic is nonetheless a crowdpleaser that should attract a mix of mostly home-format niche sales offshore. Remake rights could also prove a hot item.
A classically fuzzy-faced, nebbishy Ivory Tower brainiac, guileless Pietro (Eduardo Leo) is a molecular research scientist who’s long labored with little reward, hoping all his dutiful sacrifices will end in a university contract. But just as he nears completion of an envelope-pushing dissertation project, his blithely exploitative adviser (Sergio Solli) informs him that he’s been passed over for the sole entry-level professorial position. This is crushing news, worse still because live-in girlfriend Giulia (Valeria Solarino) is already fed up with his perpetual inability to squeeze any money from his profession — including tutorial sessions with students who already owe him hundreds of euros.
Angrily pursuing one such delinquent payer to a disco, he realizes the “smart drugs” that the kid freely spends big bucks on — while stiffing his impoverished teacher — might easily be manufactured on the cheap by someone like himself. Because it takes time for Italian regulators to identify and outlaw any new such substance, Pietro figures he can invent a chemical compound that would reap big profits for at least a few not-yet-illegal months before the government shuts it down.
This ambitious scheme requires help, so he drafts a crew of other disgruntled former grad students in various disciplines, now reduced to pumping gas and other indignities. (Chief among them are Libero De Rienzo as an economist with a gambling problem and Pietro Sermonti as plump, shy cultural anthropologist Andrea.) They create a high-end drug cocktail akin to Ecstasy, then give themselves a hipster makeover to sell it on the club scene. Success is immediate, heady and overwhelming. While Pietro weaves a web of lies to explain his newfound purchasing power to Giulia (who is, inconveniently, a counselor for recovering drug addicts), Andrea becomes an unlikely party monster, and the others also enjoy the giddy high life. Unfortunately, their good fortune does not go unnoticed by the authorities; nor does this splashy invasion of the local drug trade amuse its established kingpin (Neri Marcore).
While some viewers may see an obvious echo of “Breaking Bad” in the pic’s premise, in execution it’s more of a traditional caper comedy, with our overeducated heroes flummoxed by the suddenly available buxom beauties of many an Italian sex comedy. (Their swan dive into a lifestyle of material excess also recalls “The Wolf of Wall Street,” although this is a considerably lighter, sillier cautionary tale.) Despite the efforts of a most agreeable cast, the characters remain one-dimensional caricatures; there’s far more flash than substance to the screenplay by Valerio Attanasio, Andrea Garello and Sibilia.
Indeed, flash is the whole point of Sibilia’s very assured direction, which pushes the tale along with high editorial/design energy that’s most ostentatious in the film’s candied color palette, drastically keyed up in post-production. While one might wish for more genuinely clever situations and witty lines, the script’s lively clutter and the actors’ adept banter often provide the illusion that such qualities are present when they’re not. Hyperactive, high-gloss packaging makes it clear that Sibilia has a real future in commercial cinema, though whether “I Can Quit’s” somewhat pandering superficiality will prove just a savvy feature entree or the full measure of his talent remains to be seen.