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A borderline thug begins his path toward heroism in Gabriele Mainetti’s They Call Me Jeeg Robot, a quasi-superhero pic set in Rome’s rough Tor Bella Monaca neighborhood. Comfortable with sleaze but a far cry from being Italy’s answer to Deadpool, the pic isn’t funny or daring enough to make much of an entry into a spandex-saturated American market. As for obvious hopes of starting a franchise in its home country, time will tell.
“I’m not anyone’s friend,” an ex-con named Enzo says several times during the film — and given Claudio Santamaria’s lead performance, which seems willful in its anti-charisma, no one will doubt him. Enzo, a loner who subsists on yogurt and porn, enters the film mid-chase, pursued by thugs until he falls into the Tiber and is left for dead. Exposed to toxic chemicals underwater, he acquires super-strength, but doesn’t discover this power until he’s in the middle of a drug deal that leaves his upstairs neighbor Sergio dead.
Now he’s stuck looking out for Sergio’s daughter Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli), who looks good enough to arouse him but — well, to put it as delicately as Sergio, “she lost it” when her mother died and has behaved like a little girl ever since. Nevertheless, clueless Enzo reads a sexual invitation into the way she dips her finger into his yogurt; when she erupts into a panic, he realizes he’ll need to woo this woman-child more slowly.
The ickiness of this dynamic aside, Alessia gives the film its name. A passionate fan of an anime series, she decides that Enzo represents its hero, Jeeg. Enzo is busy trying to use his powers to rob ATMs and so on, but repeated encounters with a hammy would-be crimelord named Gypsy and his boss Nunzia eventually point him in the right direction.
Action stays low-key until the third act, when Gypsy gets some powers of his own and tries to bomb a sold-out soccer game. What happens from this point is entirely predictable, but probably adequate to satisfy viewers whose superhero-hunger is so great they hunt down this Italian coattail-rider.
Venue: New Italian Cinema, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Production company: Goon Films
Cast: Claudio Santamaria, Luca Marinelli, Stefano Ambrogi, Maurizio Tesei, Ilenia Pastorelli, Antonia Truppo
Director-producer: Gabriele Mainetti
Screenwriters: Nicola Guaglianone, Menotti
Executive producer: Jacopo Saraceni
Director of photography: Michele D’Attanasio
Production designer: Massimiliano Sturiale
Costume designer: Mary Montalto
Editor: Andrea Maguolo
Composers: Michele Braga, Gabriele Mainetti
Casting director: Francesco Vedovati
Not rated, 113 minutes
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