If you’re casting a movie about a business tycoon who basically launched a car company in a fit of pique, you could do worse than parking veteran screen heavy Frank Grillo in the title role.
Grillo can be menacing. Grillo can do slow burns. Grillo can fly off the handle, when the need arises.
And there might be a movie in the life of Ferruccio Lamboughini, the mechanic turned tractor builder who — insulted by the imperious Enzo Ferrari — bullheadedly set out to make “the most beautiful car in the world, and the fastest,” using a Spanish bull as his badge and the names of bulls or breeds for the cars’ model names.
But “Lambourghini: The Man Behind the Legend” doesn’t make that case.
It’s a truncated, somewhat sanitized bio pic of the “Tucker: A Man and his Dream” and “Ford v. Ferrari” school. Humorless and unexciting on every level, about the best you can say about it are you get to see a few cool cars.
Young Ferruccio (Romano Reggiani) returns to Cento, Italy, after World War II with his mechanic/driver pal Matteo (Matteo Leoni) and big plans.
He will marry the woman (Hannah van der Westhuysen) who waited for him and break the monopoly on tractor manufacturing in Italy, building a smaller, cheaper machine to cash in on the post-war “boom.” He and Matteo will modify an old car and win a big race to start the tractor concern with the prize money.
That doesn’t happen, and the script immediately sets the tone for the “biography” we’re to be served up. Events are conflated, chunks of history erased, details large and small bent and twisted and made to fit, much like the first car Lambourghini hastily pieced together for the Turin (not Geneva, as the film suggests) car show in the early ’60s.
The story is framed inside of an imaginary drag race between older Ferruccio (Grillo) and his nemesis, Old Enzo Ferrari (Gabriel Byrne) which Lambourghini imagines, sitting at his desk with toy cars. Kind of corny, but OK.
We’re dealing with a bit of balderdash, perhaps because the guy just wasn’t interesting enough to merit an American-made bio-pic featuring a trio of Hollywood stars. Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino plays the long-suffering, cheated-on second wife. She weeps a lot.
Maybe an Italian production that gets more into his childhood, his transformation from son of a grape-growing farm family into a mechanic for Mussolini’s air force who comes home from the war with big ideas and maybe a chip on his shoulder would have come off.
What we get instead is a fairly corny, utterly-conventional story of a proud, stubborn and womanizing business owner who succeeded with tractors, HVAC manufacturing and a luxury car marque, which is still around today, but owned by VW.
“You don’t believe in me,” Ferruccio complains at more than one point, at more than one age. “Life is short,” he says more than once, so why not build “the best cars in the world?”
He will develop a hand-built sports touring car “as strong as Hercules, as beautiful as Sophia (Loren).” He will do this because Ferraris are notoriously unreliable and he’s constantly burning through clutches on the ones he buys from Enzo’s motorworks.
But Italian cars in general and bespoke high-end Italian cars in particular are as famous for their looks as well as their fragility and stupidly expensive and laughably frequent repairs. Lambourghini did nothing to dispel that.
Casting the colorful Grillo (rent “Wheelman” or “Little Dixie” or even “Ida Red” to see him at his best) is probably the best thing that ever happened to the late Signor Lambourghini. But if you’ll recall, they didn’t put a lot of effort into depicting Enzo Ferrari in “Ford v. Ferrari,” and he was one of the villains of the piece. And by all accounts, he was much more of a character than his striving, bullheaded nemesis.
If Grillo can’t make the guy interesting to watch, and writer-director Bobby Moresco (he shared the screenwriting Oscar for “Crash”) can’t fudge Ferruccio’s life story into something more involving than this, I dare say that some suit at Lionsgate sat in a screening room at some point and wondered aloud, “Well, what was the point of THAT?”
Rating: R for some language including a sexual reference
Cast: Frank Grillo, Mira Sorvino, Romano Reggiani, Patrick Brennan and Gabriel Byrne.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Bobby Moresco. A Lionsgate release on Tubi, Amazon, etc.
Running time: 1:37
“She cries a lot.” Sounds as if the Mira provided a wholesomely honest portrayal of her character. 😂