The Whole Shebang

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THE WHOLE SHEBANG is another rom-com trip down Lovable Ethnic Lane, Italian-American East Coast Zip Code Optional, made bearable for 97 disposable minutes by the great Stanley Tucci and some valiant work from Giancarlo Giannini.

Neptune, New Jersey. After his son dies in a lust-incited fireworks factory explosion, family and kaboom-business patriarch ‘Pop Bazini’ (Giannini) sends to the Old Country for help. From Naples, that arrives in the person of cousin ‘Giovanni Bazini’ (Tucci), who’s suicidal over the loss of his oggetto d’amore. Looming plot questions arise in short order: will Pop’s business triumph over rivals and be saved in the nick of time, and will the sad bumbler from Napoli charm the dead son’s widow (Bridget Fonda), whose heart is doubly broken since the departed paisan was cheating on her at the time he (and the baker’s daughter, that puttana) went up in smoke?  Not hard to guess. *

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Directed well enough by George Zaloom, who also came up with the story and screenplay. Mostly a producer, so far this was is only film as director, and it was back in 2001. The latter credit as writer is the shakier contribution, his script an unsteady mix of so-so farce, clumsy magic realism, shopworn cliche, sloppy sentiment. Some bits work, too much falls flat.

The estimable Signor Tucci can schmooze sad-sack shtick in his sleep (beeline to his much better Big Night from 1996), and Giannani puts his customary gusto into the old man. A wan Fonda looks and acts out-of-place: it’s her weakest performance (the material doesn’t help), and for whatever assorted personal reasons, at 38 she retired shortly after, and married Danny Elfman.

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Also on hand are Talia Shire (just because she was ‘Connie’ and ‘Adrian’, capisce?) in a thankless Mama gig and Anna Maria Alberghetti, out of limbo after three decades absence, looking beautiful.

With Anthony DeSando (sans charm), Jo Champa, Alexander Milani. Well-lensed by Jasek Lascus. Standard bouncy-cute Italian rom-com music score toots in from Evan Lurie, telegraphing responses to everything we’re watching. Fused at $17,000,000, it did not light up and sparkle at the box-office. Leave the cannoli…

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* Italian-Americans have long had a stake in lighting up the night sky, per the famous Zambelli Fireworks located in New Castle, Pennsylvania, the Gruccis of Bellport, New York; the Rozzis of Loveland, Ohio; the Cartianos of Kingsbury, Indiana; and the Souzas of Rialto, California. All thanks to Marco Polo who brought the fire-fun formula back from China in the 13th century.

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