If over-the-top “Gomorra” types who could comfortably inhabit Little Italy as much as the neighborhoods around Vesuvius are an endless source of mirth-making, then the Manetti brothers’ loud and brash musical about a Camorra boss and his henchmen could be an entertaining diversion. For others, this over-long, self-indulgent romp through every mafia stereotype in the book offers moments of amusement in between tiresome set pieces and musical numbers most noteworthy for their stridency. Because “Love and Bullets” feels different from the majority of Italian screen fare apart from the Manettis’ previous musical “Song ‘e Napule,” reaction at home will likely be positive. Offshore however, the most that can be expected is scattered European distribution and Italian showcases.
A semi-bleached drone shot of the Bay of Naples settles on the funeral of don Vincenzo Strozzalone (Carlo Buccirosso) and the sobs of his cheaply made-up, flamboyantly grief-stricken widow Maria (Claudia Gerini). Don Vincenzo was the underworld’s Fish King, controlling all the seafood in Naples, so it looks like the rival clan finally got to him. The first musical number, inside the coffin, lays seeds of doubt that the dead guy in the wooden box isn’t don Vincenzo at all.
Things jump back five days earlier, in the crime-ridden Scampia section of Naples made internationally famous by “Gomorrah.” Following a satirical dance number with a bunch of American tourists joyfully singing about their “ultimate touristic experience” after getting robbed, attention shifts to the attempted hit against don Vincenzo in his mussel factory. He’s only shot in the rear, but once home, Maria, tired of the hazards of Camorra life, recalls the plot of “You Only Live Twice” and convinces her husband to fake his death so they can escape to the Caribbean with pockets full of diamonds. A look-alike shoe salesman (also Buccirosso) is killed and substituted for don Vincenzo, who hides out with Maria in their panic suite under the house. Only his closest associates have been told.
There’s one hitch: Nurse Fatima (Serena Rossi) saw the kingpin in the hospital, alive, so she needs to be rubbed out by the assassin duo Ciro (Giampaolo Morelli) and Rosario (musician-actor Raiz, real name Gennaro Della Volpe), collectively known as the Tigers. When Ciro sees Fatima, he realizes she’s his childhood sweetheart, the only woman he’s ever really loved, and the feeling is mutual. So mutual, in fact, that Fatima launches into a version of the “Flashdance” song “What a Feeling,” with new Italian lyrics detailing her undying love. Their fate is sealed: Ciro can’t kill Fatima, which means he’s going to have to kill most of his associates in order to protect Fatima and get out of Naples in one piece.
Musical numbers are generously inserted during all the crucial moments, with lyrics that carry the narrative and offer some insight into characters whose depths aren’t exactly profound. Apart from the “What a Feeling” re-do, which is the most enjoyable of the bunch, also from a visual standpoint, none of the tunes are memorable, though they make up in assertiveness what they lack in melody. Maria’s 007 revelation is carried over into Bond-inspired scenes of speed boats in the Bay of Naples, but they’re lifelessly reproduced, offering a glimmer of amusement only because they’re easily recognizable.
Though the cartoonishness of her role is considerably older than Carmela Soprano, Claudia Gerini is having so much fun biting into Maria’s excesses that her enjoyment is infectious. Serena Rossi, the Italian voice of Princess Anna in “Frozen,” is also entertaining to watch thanks to an exuberant screen presence that partly disguises the clichéd nature of Fatima’s Neapolitan dummy act. Some Italian audiences will be amused by the dialect, but it’s hardly original and isn’t quite the wellspring of hilarity the Manettis think.
The budget for “Love and Bullets” must have far exceeded the directors’ previous efforts: Besides expansive scenes throughout the city there’s also a New York sequence (Camorra families have long arms) as well as explosions, boat chases and modest production numbers. While the duo aren’t as enamored of visual bling as Baz Luhrmann, they’re not averse to gimmicks like tracking a slow-mo bullet through the air, which feels more cheesy than cool.