'Money Buddies': Film Review

Courtesy of Sally Fischer PR
A high-spirited, Hollywood remake-ready buddy comedy

Daniele Cipri's Italian farce concerns an ambulance-chasing lawyer who sees an opportunity for a windfall in the form of a recently released convict who went to jail for a crime he didn't commit.

Italian director Daniele Cipri claims the films of Blake Edwards and actors Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as the primary influences on his follow-up to his acclaimed It Was the Son, and it's easy to see. Playing like a modern-day Italian riff on The Fortune Cookie, the zany farce Money Buddies could easily have starred that venerable acting duo in their heyday. The film emerged as a genuine crowd-pleaser in its recent showing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema festival.

Veteran Italian actor Sergio Castellitto plays the lead role of Oscar, an unscrupulous, ambulance-chasing lawyer always looking for a fast buck by staging fake accidents or exploiting real ones. He thinks he's found another opportunity when he gets bitten by a scruffy dog and figures that he'll be able to sue its owner.

Unfortunately, the owner turns out to be the sad-sack, penniless Armando (Rocco Papaleo), newly released from prison after serving a 27-year sentence for robbery and manslaughter, crimes he steadfastly denies committing. That leads Oscar to another idea, namely suing for damages if he's able to prove Armando's innocence. Offering advice from the sidelines is Carmen (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a kindly barista who works in the cafe where the men meet.

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Less impressive for its plotting than its style — the convoluted storyline, culminating in a lengthy trial sequence, fails to sustain interest — the film boasts a unique look bolstered by multi-era visual references, clever animation, and the sheer tackiness of Oscar's loud plaid suits.

Castellitto's amusingly over-the-top performance perfectly suits the farcical material, with Papaleo providing a nice counterpoint with his mournful underplaying. The always appealing Tedeschi infuses some much-needed warmth to the proceedings, and the adorable canine, named "Internazionale" (played by a dog named Sioux), steals every scene he's in.

Entertainingly light and frothy but featuring enough genuine emotion to make us care about its eccentric characters — even the scheming Oscar proves lovable by the end — Money Buddies (the Italian title is La Buca, referring to the potholes which provide Oscar with his lawsuit opportunities) is a buddy comedy with genuine international appeal.

Production companies: Passione, Imago Film in collaboration with Rai Cinema, Radiotelevisione Svizzera-SRG SSR
Cast: Sergio Castellitto, Rocco Papaleo, Valerie Bruni Tedeschi, Jacopo Cullin, Ivan Franek, Teco Celio, Sonia Gessener
Director/director of photography: Daniele Cipri
Screenwriters: Daniele Cipri, Massimo Guadioso, Allessandra Acciai, Miriam Rizzo
Producers: Allessancra Acciai, Giorgio Magliulo, Roberto Lombardi
Production designer: Marco Dentici
Editor: Giogio Franchini
Costume designer: Grazia Colombini
Composers: Pino Donaggio, Zeno Gabaglio

Not rated, 90 minutes