Netflixable? Italian couples decide who ends up with whom in “Four to Dinner”

You’re allowed to be confused by what unfolds in the mix-and-match Italian romance “Four to Dinner.” Not that you need my permission. If you’ve watched it, you got there all on your own.

It’s a thought exercise tale about two couples, bouncing willy nilly between them as they are paired-up with this prospective mate, then that one, playing out all the possibilities of how things might have turned out if this “soulmate” had found that one, or decided that somebody else was a better fit in his or her life.

So it’s a tale of “fate” and “fated to be together,” sort of like “Sliding Doors,” if you remember that far back. Only it makes far less sense, and manages to be far more frustrating as well. Whatever screenwriter Martino Coli and director Alessio Maria Federici were shooting for, it’s not clear they had it figured out, just a winning cast, a lot of coupling (sans sex-scenes) and some vague thesis that “we have many potential ‘soulmates.'”

A clumsy framing device has this story of two couples related by a married couple (Flavio Furno and Marta Gastini) tell some dinner guests how they set these other two couples up. The twist? Husband Luca (Furno) gives the guests a “true” version of the story, and a lot of false ones.

As in “rock star mathematician” Giulia (Matolde Gioli) might have hooked up with womanizing lawyer Dario (Giuseppe Maggio), flirting just long enough to get across the notion how “DTF” she is. But maybe she didn’t stop with him. Maybe she hooked up with “laid back” publishing editor Matteo (Matteo Martari), too. And maybe he was the one who got her pregnant and changed their destinies.

Or maybe wary, smart anesthesiologist Chiara (Ilenia Pastorelli), who is holding out for Mr. Right, was more Matteo’s speed. Then again, maybe she’s “the one” who could make Dario give up his bed-hopping ways.

“It’s just that I don’t go out with guys like you any more,” (in dubbed English, or Italian with subtitles) sounds like a challenge. Maybe Dario will accept it.

Clunky “stories within a story” structure aside, there are a few novel moments and a genuinely sweet one or two. Might Matteo, who hates to “plan,” have taken Chiara to his favorite out-of-the-way restaurant only to find out there’s a wedding booked for the evening, and only the bride’s adorable intervention saves their “first date?” Throwing yourself into an Italian Jewish wedding of strangers is classic “meet cute/date cute.”

Might unromantic Giulia fall in love with the guy who got her pregnant? Might true love be tested by “fated” infidelity?

“Four to Dinner” came close to drawing me in, here and there. Gioli has a beguiling brassiness and vulnerability, and Martari brings an offhanded haplessness to the character he shares his name with.

But the constant jumping back and forth in multiverse-styled timelines is more exasperating than charming, thought-provoking or even entertaining. Perhaps there’s a better way of organizing this, following one story for longer stretches, fewer “two months later” interludes.

Probably not. Once we “get” the “many soulmates in the multiverse” gimmick, the movie needs to get to its point. It never does.

Rating: TV-MA, profanity

Cast: Matilde Gioli, Ilenia Pastorelli, Matteo Martari, Giuseppe Maggio, Flavio Furno and Marta Gastini

Credits: Directed by Alessio Maria Federici, scripted by Martino Coli. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:45

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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