"Gloomy Sunday" doesn't sound like much fun. Who really wants to see a movie about a melody that's so haunting it drives listeners to suicide?
This period drama is actually about more than that, but its plot about ill-fated love triangles, wrapped up in World War II-era intrigue, is not only familiar, it's eminently forgettable. This is the kind of material you expect to find in a Lifetime cable-channel movie.
This fictional account of the creation of the torch song made famous in the United States by Billie Holiday is set in Budapest. That's where Laszlo Szabo (Joachim Krol) runs a semi-successful restaurant business. It's also where he's fallen in love with restaurant manager Ilona (Erika Marozsan).
He's not the only one, though. Andras (Stefano Dionisi), the new piano player Laszlo hired to entertain his diners, has fallen under her spell as well. In fact, he's written a lovely but surprisingly bittersweet song for her, which becomes a hit and puts the restaurant on the map.
Further complicating things is the arrival of Hans (Ben Becker), an SS officer who also has feelings for Ilona, and whom she manipulates or at least tries to in order to make things easier for Laszlo, a Hungarian Jew.
Co-screenwriter/director Rolf Schubel's adaptation of the best-selling novel by Nick Barkow feels a little unfocused, as if it can't decide whether the film should be an epic romance or a wartime thriller. Also, the clumsy, clunky wraparound sequences set in the present day only pad out a film that already feels a little long.
The performances by all three male leads pale in comparison to the more lively and interesting work turned in Marozsan, who seems willing to do anything here including doffing her clothes whenever the script demands it. Dionisi's brooding Andras is surprisingly unsympathetic.
"Gloomy Sunday" is not rated but would probably receive an R for male and female nudity, simulated sex, scattered use of profanity, some brief violence (fisticuffs and a shooting), and some ethnic slurs. Running time: 114 minutes.