In writer-director Melissa Martin’s inauspicious debut feature, Dominic (Scott Baio) and his three brothers work in a small Italian bakery in Pittsburgh that’s owned by an elderly couple, and between the five of them they reach a sort of critical mass of clichéd characterization.
The old couple is bad enough. Massimo (John Seitz), the grouchy but (supposedly) loveable patriarch, is inclined to break into off-key renditions of “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto and speaks in a Tonto-esque dialect (“Me no like,” he says more than once). His running gag is that he calls Dominic a “jag-off” — and around the fifth time that the movie tries to get a laugh out of it, even the most easily amused will be wincing. Massimo’s wife Bella (Rosemary Prinz) is an elfin cutey, a surrogate mother for Dominic and his brothers whose beaming smile hasn’t been dimmed by decades with the horrid Massimo nor by the fact that she’s dying of stomach cancer.
The three brothers have a sort of poor man’s Michael-Fredo-Sonny dynamic, with Dominic as the serious one who will get things done, Eddie (Billy Mott) as the loveably irresponsible one and Pino (Shuler Hensley) as the lummox, retarded to boot. Hensley seems to be auditioning for a high school production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, playing it broadly over the top and altogether amateurishly. Though dumb as a sack of hammers, Pino is a pie-making savant and one of the more grisly developments in the movie is his response to cancerous Bella’s diminishing appetite. He keeps making smaller and smaller pies for her until they’re down to the size of a 50-cent piece and then freaks out when he realizes he can’t make the pies any smaller.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Dominic’s attempt to convince Bella’s daughter, Lucca (Kristin Minter), to marry him, not because he loves her but because he wants to make Bella happy before she croaks (as if she isn’t happy enough already — the woman is positively demented with happiness).
The obvious joke is that you know a movie is in trouble when its best performance is given by Scott Baio, but the fact is that he seems a model of restraint here among his hammy cohorts. Which is the only positive thing I can think of to say about this hackneyed and ham-fisted mess.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W. of Telegraph). Call 248-263-2111.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].