For Italians and Others
Robert M. Penna | Albany, NY | 10/19/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The HBO-produced "Whole Shebang" is a light comedy that not only features Stanley Tucci in yet another marvelous performance, but also shows that when the roots of familiar stereotypes are actually shown and explored, the results strengthen the work, rather than seeming hackneyed or insulting.
The film opens with a good-looking, but unnamed young man working on what at first appears to be a cooking demonstration gone mad. As we come to realize that he is mixing up fireworks and not a play-dough meatloaf, he is interrupted by an unnamed female whose fevered attentions are those unfortunately limited to only new girlfriends and illicit lovers. Sadly, as the sparks fly the whole place explodes in a powerful display of pyrotechnics and the lovers go boom. It is only in the aftermath that we learn that the lothario was "Frank Bazini, Jr.," and yes, he was cheating on his wife with a local strumpet. The Bazini family has been making fireworks for generations, we learn, and the family patriarch decides to reach out to the clan in the old country for a new heir for his crumbling empire.
It is at this point that the film's genius begins to come forth, for we are transported to Naples, where we meet Giovanni (Tucci) a touching, lovable loser who can't even commit suicide successfully. Naples holding no promise of any improvement in his fortunes anytime soon, Giovanni decamps to Neptune, New Jersey, to take up his new life and responsibilities. The scene where he meets his "new" family is priceless, made so by the viewer's dawning appreciation of the Neapolitan traditions that inform Giovanni's and the family's existence. For all those, especially viewers of Italian decent who are tired to death of Italians always being portrayed by Hollywood as either gangsters or buffoons, the link to those traditions provides the anchor that rescues this scene and much else from mere slapstick and turns it into an inspired comic touch. Similarly, when Giovanni coaches his nephew Bobby in the precise use of Neapolitan hand signs (and then tries to pay for their pizza with a 10,000 lira bill), it is the link to his deeply held and cherished roots that makes the scene work.
The rest of the movie is pretty much standard Hollywood feel-good fare. Boy (Giovanni) meets girl (Frank, Jr's non-Italian widow, Val), boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again. Woven through this familiar terrain is the equally familiar subplot of the evil Zito clan which covets the Bazini's secret family fireworks recipes. Needless to say, by the movie's end the Zitos are vanquished, the Bazinis win, and everyone lives happily ever after.
While the entire cast is to be commended, it is Tucci who makes this film work. With toupee and moustache, he appears for all the world like a gentle clone of the late Peter Sellers, and he plays the role perfectly. It may be Tucci's lot in life to either spend his career in supporting roles or in the lead in small films that few ever see. But he is a marvelous actor who one day will be recognized for his talents. This film and this performance are further evidence that Tucci is a rare talent, and we are all the richer for his "being there."
A Picturesque Italian American Frolic
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 07/30/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"THE WHOLE SHEBANG is a movie made for television, a category that in some circles places a hex, but in the case of HBO films it is a definite plus! This little unpretentious story plays like a sweet foreign film like 'Life is Beautiful' and is directed (George Zaloom) with zest and played by an all star cast that makes it a fine evening's entertainment.
The Bazzini family of Neptune, New Jersey owns a fireworks business in competition with the Zito family whose entrepreneurial instincts are decidedly more 'American'. The head of the Bazinni family is Pop (Giancarlo Giannini) and Contessa (Talia Shire) and the heir apparent is Frank (Christian Boucher) who is a fine pyrotechnician but is unfaithful to his non-Italian wife Val (Bridget Fonda). As the story opens Frank is perfecting the 'blue' firework and while working he is distracted by his latest lady conquest who diverts his attention causing the whole Bazinni Fireworks Plant to literally blow up. Though the family is devastated at Frank's death, Pop looks for the next head of the company to replace Frank, and at the wake the Zito family Lady Zito (Anna Maria Alberghetti looking terrific!) inserts her son Joey (Anthony DeSando) into an evil-planned courtship of the newly widowed Val in hopes of overtaking the Bazinni business.
Meanwhile, in Naples Italy we meet Giovanni Bazinni (Stanley Tucci, in fine form as a comedian!), a cousin to the American Bazinnis and a poor cafe musician unlucky in love and life. He repeatedly attempts suicide but each attempt is comically thwarted. His passion is for Maria (Jo Champa) a gold digger slut who dismisses Giovanni's affections with cold harshness. News of the Bazinni disaster in America arrives and Giovanni is sent to New Jersey to inherit the fireworks business. Once in New Jersey in flounders around the language and the business, is attracted to Val and to her son Bobby (Alexander Milani) and is adored by the Bazinni clan. In time Giovanni's good intentions often backfire (!) and the politics between the Bazinnis and the Zitos collide. The resolution of the story proves that honesty and family ties and creative perseverance result in happy endings.
The 'Italian gioio' created by this fine cast is infectious and each of the characters adds to the recipe with style. Tucci is in top form as are Giannini, Fonda, and Alberghetti. They make this rather slight script worth believing, never coming across as imitating but as embodying their roles. The frequent use of fireworks is joyous and well done and adds to the sparkle of the film. Not a great movie but certainly a solid one for a tender summer night's entertainment. Grady Harp, July 05