Film — Uncle Nino (PG)

Uncle Nino (PG)

by Amy Diaz

Lessons about the importance of family, the simple joys of good food and good wine and the importance of not allowing work to overtake other aspects of life ooze out of every slice of the very cheesy pizza that is Uncle Nino, a limited-wrelease homemade meal from Joe Mantegna which is running at area theaters.

Like the melted mozzarella that rolls out of a stuffed-crust and flows lava-like around your already cheese-covered slice, morals smother this thin crust of a story. Robert (Mantegna) is a hard-working dad whose suburban Chicago family seldom sees him. For this reason, his wife Marie (Anne Archer) seems forever on the edge of tears. His son Bobby (Trevor Morgan) is “rebelling” by playing rock and hanging out with punk-ish friends. And his daughter Gina (Gina Mantegna) is over-the-top annoying about wanting a dog. I don’t know what this means about family psychology but it does allow for plenty of hardcore scenes of painful whining.

Into this mix is sprinkled the simple joy and old-world sensibility of Uncle Nino (Pierrino Mascarino), brother to Robert’s dead father. Uncle Nino’s arrival is announced by a kindergartenishly scrawled letter that the family doesn’t receive until the day he gets to the airport. Marie meets him and tries to entertain with Chinese takeout and box wine. Nino sadly shakes his head as they sit alone at the dining room table — not only does the family drink bad cabernet, they don’t even sit down to dinner together.

Slowly, however, Nino is able to cast his Tuscan-garden sunshine on each member of the family. Marie learns how to cook. Bobby and his “rock” band really dig Nino’s mad violin jams and they incorporate his “musica” into their rehearsals for the big battle of the bands. Nino buys Gina a dog and together the whole family — minus mom and dad — plant a flower-fruit and vegetable-producing garden in the front yard, much to the chagrin of the green-lawn-mowing subdivision neighbors.

Dear god, how will this crisis resolve itself? Will Robert ever warm to the joys of family life? Or will he waste his life toiling for an ultimately fickle corporation?

If you consider these questions anything but rhetorical — and somewhat sarcastic — then perhaps the 102 minutes of endless instruction and good cheer won’t wear you out. Personally, the bombardment of fake problems and painfully simplistic solutions is a little too much for my morals-allergic sensibility. I felt itchy, tired and slightly headachy. Nino’s Chef Boyardee accent handily allows him to either speak and understand English perfectly or only get out one or two words in a way that is very, how do you say, contrivedo.

Uncle Nino is not a bad movie; it is insufferably good. And for those who want more faith than entertainment, perhaps all that goodness will make up for the weak story, the one-dimensional characters and the stagey dialogue.

- Amy Diaz

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH