Manual of Love 3: Film Review

Robert De Niro brings a smidgen of charm to the un-charming latest installment of a popular franchise.

Robert De Niro joins in the politically-incorrect humor and corny plots of an Italian comedy series, now in its third installment.

ROME — Manual of Love 3, Giovanni Veronesi’s third installment in this series, stars not only a who’s who of Italian stars but this time American icon Robert De Niro joins in the politically-incorrect humor and corny plots. The mostly nonsensical result is a film that critics love to hate and audiences, especially in Italy, love to love.

The first Manual was the top domestic earner of 2005 (14 million euros), while the second film came in third in 2007 (with over 19 million euros). The third will likely do even better thanks to De Niro, who makes his first foreign-languagefilm since Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900. Manual 3 will probably even make it out of Europe to the States, unlike the other two. American audiences, who love the increasingly absurd Focker franchise, might enjoy this export.

Like the previous films, Manual of Love 3is an anthology film. Here the three stories are mostly set in Rome, divided by age group, and this time even Cupid (Emanuele Propizio, looking like a singer in a boy band) makes an appearance. He’s a taxi driver, whose high-tech arrows must get lost in flight given the mostly loveless stories. Each segment centers on a male protagonist; in fact, the whole film serves as eye-candy for men of all ages, wherein lies its broad appeal.

In the first part, “Youth,” Roberto (Riccardo Scamarcio) tells us he has only two dreams: to become a hotshot lawyer and marry his true love and fiancée, Sara (Valeria Solarino). The next day, he gets his big break when his law firm sends him to a Tuscan town to evict a family of farmers in order to make way for a golf course. There, he meets sexy young thing, Micol (Laura Chiatti), and thinks maybe he doesn’t want to settle down after all. So much for true love.

The romance between Roberto and Micol is clinched when she tells him she once pretended to be a hooker and the whole town lined up to be with her. When a guy asked what she charged for love-making, she answered breathily, “You don’t pay to make love. Making love is free.” Micol’s anecdote is meant to show just how wild and free she really is, but it’s just mind-bogglingly demeaning.

Foreign audiences will see their own rednecks in the broad stereotypes of Tuscans, who swear like sailors and look like hillbillies. But the segment is really about Chiatti in various stages of undress, another draw for male viewers.

In “Maturity,” an arrogant newscaster (Carlo Verdone), who’s been happily married for 25 years, has a fling with a woman (Donatella Finocchiaro) who turns out to be a stalker and ruins his life. End of story. Actor-director Verdone, a comedy demigod in Italy, delivers the few laughs in a segment that’s reminiscent of the ‘60s and ‘70s Italian romps with sinister bites. But it’s hard though to watch Verdone and the usually dramatic Finocchiaro imitating eagles during sex — because it turns her on — without hoping it will all end soon.

“Beyond,” the third segment, sees De Niro playing a divorced American art history professor surprised to find himself falling in love once again so late in life. It helps that the object of his affections is Monica Bellucci, who plays his doorman’s (Michele Placido) stripper daughter. Speaking short lines in sweet, broken Italian, De Niro is more Sitting Bull than Raging Bull and gives the film its most recognizably human character.

Sure, he’s phoning it in, but he does keep his much-touted strip scene dignified. And the twinkle in his eye is a welcome change from the militant pater familias of the Focker films. Bellucci fares better here than she did in Manual of Love 2, and Placido is always fun to watch as a cranky bastard.

Opens: Friday, Feb. 25 in Italy
Production company: Filmauro (Italy), Babe Films (France)
Cast: Robert De Niro, Monica Bellucci, Carlo Verdone, Riccardo Scamarcio, Michele Placido, Laura Chiatti, Donatella Finocchiaro, Valeria Solarino, Emanuele Propizio
Director: Giovanni Veronesi
Screenwriters: Giovanni Veronesi, Ugo Chiti, Andrea Agnello
Producers: Aurelio De Laurentiis, Luigi De Laurentiis
Director of photography: Tani Canevari
Production designer: Luca Merlini
Music: Paolo Buonvino
Costume designer: Gemma Mascagni
Editor: Patrizio Marone
Sales company: Wild Bunch
No rating, 125 minutes