Film review: Uncle Nino

Published: Thursday, Feb. 10 2005 2:43 p.m. MST

Italian character actor Pierrino Mascarino, left, plays the title role and Joe Mantegna plays his overworked nephew, Robert, in "Uncle Nino."

Lange Film Releasing

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The concept behind "Uncle Nino" is a pretty, quaint but overly familiar one. And the film — and its characters — are full of quirks. But it tries a little too hard, especially where the quirks are concerned.

The title character is Nino Micelli (Pierrino Mascarino), an Italian ferry-boat driver. Having never been to America, he's determined to make the trek there to see his nephew Robert (Joe Mantegna). Unfortunately, the overworked Robert has little time to spend with his estranged uncle. And his family seems to have even less interest in entertaining their European visitor — Robert's son Bobby (Trevor Morgan) is obsessed with his music, and his daughter Gina (Gina Mantegna) just wants her father to buy her a dog.

So that leaves things to Robert's harried wife, Marie (Anne Archer), who's got her hands full just trying to keep her dysfunctional family together. But as she begins spending time with Nino, she and the others start remembering the value of family.

As predictable and familiar as the material is, it's not quite as treacly or as touchy-feely as you might expect. However, as hard as screenwriter/director Robert Shallcross tries, it's all a bit too old-fashioned, almost anachronistic. And there are a few unwelcome modern-day intrusions, such as some crude dialogue.

Then there's Larry Pecorella's strident score, which desperately tries to convince us that the movie is a comedy when there's little evidence of that on the screen — especially when the story turns entirely too serious, too dramatic during the final third.

And despite the presence of several Italian-Americans among the cast and crew, the movie lays on the stereotypes a bit thick.

Thankfully, there is Mascarino to give the film a boost. The veteran Italian character actor (last seen in the Bruce Willis vehicle "Tears of the Sun") underplays things, making what would otherwise be a nauseatingly sweet moment toward the end a little more effective.

It's also always nice to see Mantegna and Archer on the big screen again, even if their roles are a bit underdeveloped.

And the film certainly has its heart in the right place.

"Uncle Nino" is rated PG for use of some vulgar slang terms, brief references to drug use and use of some mild profanity, as well as some acts of vandalism. Running time: 102 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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