The dystopian thriller “Mondocane” has the intentional misfortune — “unforced error” — of sharing its title with one of the most infamous “snuff” films of all time, 1962’s “Mondo Cane.”
Get past that and this grim slice of sci-fi — the title means “Dog’s World,” by the way — delivers violence, suspense in a Dickensian “Oliver Twist” package that maybe needed a few more days of workshopping the screenplay.
Dennis Protopapa has the title role, not that the tweenaged street urchin gave it to himself. He and his running mate Cristiano (Giuliano Soprano). These “strays” scavenge an over-industrialized/unregulated hellscape of a coastal city. Italy’s near future doesn’t have to be “post apocalyptic” director and co-writer Alessandro Celli reminds us. The rich are exploiting and polluting us into a climate-changed dystopia without any help from a global plague, nuclear war or asteroid strike.
This Italy looks like the poorest corners of any Third World country. Italy has devolved into Bangladesh.
The local gang, The Ants, are the ones who nickname Mondocane. They gave it to him for a piece of work he did on their behalf, something horrific involving a pet store. They call Cristiano “Pisspants (Pisciasotto)” because that’s what he does during the worst of his seizures.
As the lads dive for sellable junk in off-limits polluted lagoons, Cristiano’s seizures could be genetic or pathogen related.
Mondocane longs to join the gang, and its leader, Hothead (Alessandro Borghi) is open to the idea. It’s just that he has no interest in “Pisspants.” Mondocane sets out to change his mind.
A little girl ( Ludovica Nasti) connected with the torched pet store is grilled by a reckless, over-zealous cop (Barbara Ronchi), who then befriends her. Will working class Sabrina fall in with the strays and their forbidden zone anarchy, or will she figure out what these boys did?
Director and co-writer Celli takes us into a world of pistol-packing Artful Dodgers, where no child recruited into the gang is as innocent as Dickens’ Oliver Twist. We see how useful children can be when it comes to breaking and entering, and how awful they turn when they’re armed and turned into child soldiers.
The film loses the thread as Celli can’t decide whether to simply concentrate on the boys, or give Sabrina and the cop Katia some agency in figuring out who these kids are and what they’re capable of.
Mondocane and Cristiano settle into diverging gang paths, as is the way of such screenplays. But Celli works in a fine twist or two to add to the third act’s bullet-riddled mayhem.
The kids are good, holding their own with some seriously hardcase adult characters played by more polished professionals.
But “Mondocane” is a mixed bag, as its sci-fi without really committing to that, “Oliver Twist” without the warmth, entirely too predictable for stretches and entirely too frustrating in its finale.
Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Dennis Protopapa, Giuliano Soprano, Ludovica Nasti, Alessandro Borghi and Barbara Ronchi.
Credits: Directed by Alessandro Celli, scripted by Alessandro Celli and Antonio Leotti. A Kino Lorber release.
Running time: 1:54