‘I Can Quit Whenever I Want’ (‘Smetto Quando Voglio’): London Review

I Can Quit Whenever I Want Still 2 - H 2014
Courtesy of London Film Festival

I Can Quit Whenever I Want Still 2 - H 2014

One of the most exportable Italian comedies in recent memory

Like an Italian mash-up of "Breaking Bad" and "Ocean’s Eleven," this smartly written comedy marks a strong feature debut for director Sydney Sibilia

If it weren’t for the fact that the comic Italian feature I Can Quit Whenever I Want is so obviously inspired by Breaking Bad, producers would be battling for the remake rights. Director Sydney Sibilia’s debut is not an official spin-off of show-runner Vince Gilligan’s hit series, and its tone and plot trajectory are sufficiently different to avoid any charges of intellectual property theft. However, there’s no mistaking the similarities in the core premise which sets a cohort of desperate, unemployed academic geniuses down a criminal path making and selling a designer drug in contemporary, cash-strapped Italy. A substantial local hit earning over $5m since its February release, it’s played a fair few international festivals so far and could bank legit bucks as a niche release beyond Italy.

Protagonist Pietro Zinni (Eduardo Leo) is a research fellow in neurobiology at a prominent local university that’s struggling with massive budget cuts, like every other institution in the country that relies on state funding. When he fails to play politics in order to ensure the renewal of his contract from his Machiavellian head of department (Sergio Solli), he’s too much of a wimp to even fess up about his job situation to his girlfriend Giulia (Valeria Solarino), a social worker who works with drug addicts. Even though he moonlights by tutoring high-school and university students, he’s can’t even get them to pay the fees they owe him.

Cornering one such debtor at a nightclub, the hitherto straight-laced Pietro realizes just how profitable ecstasy-like drugs can be, and comprehends that he only needs to change a single chemical bond in order to keep the product off the nation’s list of banned substances. Deciding it’s time to make his years of training in neurology profitable, Pietro starts enlisting academic friends and colleagues similarly shafted by the economic crisis.

Pietro’s recruitment process in the midsection satisfyingly spoofs Ocean’s Eleven as he rounds up his unlikely gang of would-be miscreants. Chemist Alberto (Stefano Fresi), who’s been washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant, is put in charge of producing the new drug – he’s the one who will later start getting high on his supply, thus threatening the whole operation. Mattia (Valerio Aprea) and Latin scholar Giorgio (Lorenzo Lavia), formerly a semiotician and a Latin scholar previously, both currently gas station attendants, are tasked with sales and distribution. Anthropologist Andrea (Pietro Sermonti), who in one hilarious scene fails to get a factory-job from a boss prejudiced against unemployed academics, becomes their advisor on subcultural camouflage. Archeologist Arturo (Paolo Calbresi)comes in handy as a driver because of his access-all-areas parking permit. Finally, microeconomics expert Bartolomeo (Libero De Rienzo), desperate for a way out of his poker debts, becomes their chief business advisor.

Just like Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Pietro goes from milquetoast to badass with his first taste of power and success, and although Quit never gets anywhere near as dark as BB, there’s just enough sense of danger and desperation at play to generate urgency and edge.

Elsewhere, the scientific and academic jargon the characters use – all rattled off at breakneck speed by the well-drilled cast - is consistently credible sounding. Nitpickers familiar with the scholastic milieu might question whether someone like Pietro would know experts from other faculties quite so well, but what the hell, it’s a comedy, and an impressively funny one at that, one of the most exportable Italian entertainments in recent memory.

Sibilia, DoP Vladan Radovic and whoever was in charge of the post-production color processing rather over-egg the zabaglione with an eye-searing palette of oversaturated hues that’s almost painful to watch sometimes. But that’s just one trashy note in an otherwise well-seasoned technical package, that’s briskly paced and neatly assembled in all other respects.

Production companies: A Domenico Procacci presentation of a Fandango, Ascent Film production with Rai Cinema
Cast: Edoardo Leo, Valerio Aprea, Pietro Sermonti, Paolo Calabresi, Libero De Rienzo, Valeria Solarino, Neri Marcore, Sergio Solli
Director: Sydney Sibilia
Screenwriters: Valerio Attanasio, Andrea Garello, Sydney Sibilia
Producer: Domenico Procacci, Matteo Rovere
Executive producer: Laura Paolucci
Director of photography: Vladan Radovic
Production designer: Alessandro Vannucci
Costume designer: Francesca Vecchi, Roberta Vecci
Editor: Gianni Vezzosi
Composer: Andrea Farri
Casting: Francesca Borromeo, Gabriella Giannatiaso
Sales: Fandango

175 minutes