Movie Review: An Italian in Witness Protection doesn’t take to “Paradise”

At some point the administrator in charge of a Sicilian witness protection program has to admit to the slushie vendor who witnessed a Mafia hit and was spirited off to the Swiss Italian alps that yes, the hitman our witness fingered turned state’s evidence. Yes, he had to be put into protection as well. And yes, they did send him to the same tiny village our slushie vendor will never be able to ply his trade in.

And yes, they uh, gave him the same last name.

“Are you SH—–g me?” is funny in English, or Italian with English subtitles.

Well, you know how Italians do things, the administrator shrugs, and we all have a chuckle at the oxymoron Amanda Knox remembers as “Italian justice.”

That’s the gist of “Paradise,” or “Paradise: Una nuova vita,” a deadpan Italian farce in the tradition of most every other “witness protection” comedy — from “Sister Act” and “My Blue Heaven” to “Lillehammer” and “The Family.” There’s a little “fish out of water,” a bit of made man “bull in a china shop” mayhem, and that fateful day when the mobsters figure out where our heroes are and come looking for them.

Vincenzo Nemolato plays Alfio, whose life running his pushcart business forever changed when a sicario (hitman) decided to carry out his latest contract right in front of him, barely noticing he was there.

The cops want Alfio’s testimony, but his gorgeous, pregnant Sicilian wife (Selene Caramazza) counsels “schtum.” Keep quiet. It is the way they do things in mafiosa-land. “Trust your family, not ‘them.'”

“NO,” he mans up. He will do this for themselves, for their unborn child, their non-mobster neighbors and their way of life. He will go into witness protection, and Lucia, you’ll join me. Right? Right?

Alfio is spirited off the some place alpine and moved into a disused apartment building called “Paradise.” Lucia remains behind. And the mob makes a big show, rolling around their small town in a pickup with loudspeakers on the roof, playing music to get everyone’s attention, tossing an empty coffin in front of their apartment.

Alfio’s earned a mob funeral. He’s just not dead yet.

Things aren’t going great up where the snowy season really cuts into slushie sales. Our witness, renamed Calogero (a nakedly Sicilian name, apparently) tries to fit in, joining the parish priest’s (Branko Zavrsan) folk dancing troupe, catching the eye of fetching blonde single mom barmaid Klaudia (Katarina Gas).

And then this grizzled, serious-looking fellow (Andrea Pennacchi) shows up. Could he be? No, surely not. Paranoid Calogero makes frantic calls to his contact, who brushes off his concerns. So our hidden witness must take matters into his own hands.

I mean, Mr. Menacing Stalker Vibe has ALSO moved into the Paradise, after all.

Maybe Alfio can get some shotgun lessons from Klaudia. Google “Ways to kill somebody without a gun” on the Italian Internet. Practice “Are you talkin’ to ME?” in front of the mirror.

Director Davide Del Degan and screenwriter Andrea Magnani manage plenty of amused chuckles, with a couple of decent belly laughs in this over-familiar laugher. Nemolato, who has a clown’s features, something played-up when Alfio dyes his curly hair reddish, has done his share of thrillers and plays it pretty straight, which makes his double-takes land.

Pennacchi looks and sounds like a seasoned, salt-and-peppered killer, which allows his “secrets” to pay off comically.

And the picture practically skips by, with a little scenery, a little local color, some goofy costumes and dancing and a hint of bloody menace hanging over it all.

“Paradise” doesn’t reinvent “witness protection” as a comic concept. But it get the basics just right, which is enough to recommend it.

Rating: unrated, a bit of shooting

Cast: Vincenzo Nemolato, Selene Caramazza, Andrea Pennacchi, Katarina Gas

Credits: Directed by Davide Del Degan, scripted by Andrea Magnani. A Film Movement+ release.

Running time: 1:25

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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