There’s real historical backdrop to “Robbing Mussolini.” But is the new Italian film (subtitled, or dubbed into English) a “true story?”
“True-ish” an opening credit reassures us. How “true-ish?”
Well, it’s 1945 Milan in the last months of the war, and everybody’s dressed to the nines. Street hustlers and smugglers have their own military communications decoding operation, and there’s easy access to weapons caches and TNT.
Their leader may call himself “Isola” (Pietro Castellitto) because “I work alone.” But he doesn’t.
And his chanteuse girlfriend (Matilda De Angelis), the one he shares with a fascist officer/torturer? Yvonne knocks’em dead every night at the club with her Italian rendition of “Paint it Black,” by Los Pietre rotolanti, aka The Rolling Stones.
It’s worth remembering that long before that nice Italian-American foot-fetishist Quentin Tarantino started mimicking the campy action of some corners of international cinema, that the folks over in the Olde Country, the one shaped like a boot, were showing him how it was done.
I mean, they made the original “Inglorious Bastards,” after all.
“Robbing Mussolini” is a campy WWII heist picture, a bit too violent and lacking the laughs that would make it a caper comedy, a bit too reliant on formula to give us anything new.
Isola’s usually content with selling guns and explosives to the partisans, who finally gave up on fascism and turned against Il Duce when the Allies landed in Italy. Half the country’s still in fascist hands, and Isola wants to grab his girl away from the fascist goon (Filippo Timi) who keeps her around to cheat on his fading film star wife (Isabella Ferrari)
What’s the theatrical, vampy fading screen star’s name? Nora, because “Norma” was taken.
To make their getaway in style, Isola needs Mussolini’s Gold, hoarded inside the fortified Black Zone of Naples.
Isola will need to expand his team. The aged sniper/bodyguard Macello (Tommaso Ragno) and comics nerd/decoder/tech whiz Amadeo (Luigi Fidele) will need to enlist a street-fighting pickpocket (Rebecca Coco) Amadeo is sweet on. If they can find the on the lam “hero of our nation” race car driver (Maccio Capatonda), they’ll be able to make their get away.
And they really could use the “best in the business” bomb maker, the anarchist with the cute “nom de guerre” Molotov (Alberto Astorri). He’s the one they have to rescue from the noose, spaghetti Western style.
That’s the first of the “heists” the precede the “big heist,” as this crew has to crash a posh cocktail party, steal this or that, figure out who they can trust and who will stab them in the back on their way to the gold stash, freedom and glory.
The acting’s indifferent, with only the odd line or situation giving anybody a chance to shine.
It’s all strictly formula, with a dash of wit here and a fun classic car chase there.
Not enough of it works to recommend, but it’s always fun to be reminded that campy action films are their own international language, and they travel better than any other film genre — from Italy to Thailand, Hong Kong to Korea and the Philippines, and eventually to a video store in Manhattan Beach, California, where a certain wired film nerd took it all in and made it his brand.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity
Cast: Pietro Castellitto, Matilda De Angelis, Isabella Ferrari, Tommaso Ragno, Rebecca Coco Edogamhe, Alberto Astorri, Maccio Capatonda, Luigi Fedele and Filippo Timi
Credits: Scripted and directed by Renato De Maria. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:36