Another World -- Film Review

A familiar story, enlivened by a breakout performance from its child co-star. 

Silvio Muccino's sophomore feature "Another World" doesn't take us nearly as far the title would suggest.

Minutes into the film, the destination is already in plain sight, as are all the stops in between. The only surprise comes from tiny co-star Michael Rainey Jr., who gives a spontaneous performance that is a promise of great things to come.

Better known as an actor, Muccino is the younger brother of director Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness, Kiss Me Again). He inherits a dynasty with a ready-made audience of young adults and yuppies, the focus of almost all the brothers' films set in Italy. Another World bowed last week on 300 screens -- 200 fewer than Silvio's freshman effort, Talk to Me About Love (2008). Universal is presumably playing it safe, given the critical pans and lower-than-expected box office the first film pulled in.

Another World is once more co-scripted Carla Vangelista, who again adapts her own novel.

Andrea (Muccino) is a wealthy slacker whose life is bankrolled by his icily cold mother (Greta Scacchi). He parties hard with his bulimic girlfriend Livia (Isabella Ragonese) and alcoholic best friend Tommaso (Flavio Parenti) until his 28th birthday, when he receives a letter from his estranged father. The man who inexplicably abandoned his son in a park is dying in Nairobi and wants Andrea by his side.

By the time he arrives in Kenya, his father is in a coma. An aid worker (Maya Sansa) informs him he has an 8-year-old half-brother, Charlie (Rainey Jr.), whose mother died a few years earlier. What either parent died of is just tossed aside; the point is Andrea is stuck with legal guardianship of a youngster who threatens to cramp his style.

When Charlie's Kenyan grandfather refuses to take in "the bastard child with white blood," Andrea tries to dump him in an orphanage but doesn't have the heart to go through with it. He brings the tyke back to Rome without telling Livia about their new guest.

She's upset at first, then won over by the boy and his faithful companion, a stuffed orange dinosaur named Fishandchips. Andrea, meanwhile, hates his new lifestyle of adult responsibilities and can't wait for his lawyer to find a good, adoptive home for his brother.

Like Nick Hornby's About a Boy, Another World is all about a man overcoming his fear of becoming a man, which comes to a head in a moment of reckoning with his mother. Scacchi excels in a small role, but the scene in which she finally tells Andrea what happened in the past is preposterous. When she explains how and why she effectively ruined his life, Andrea is inexplicably overcome by wisdom and forgiveness.

Another World never finds its dramatic backbone, relying on safe, formulaic plot points without bothering to offer true depth of character. Yet whenever the film asks him to tug at our hearts, Rainey, who owns his role, is lovable just playing it straight. An American, he learned the language in Italy and speaks it like a pro, adding a heap of class to the predictable story.

Ragonese (Her Whole Life Ahead) gets better with each film, while Muccino's performance is the weakest. He needs a stronger hand than his to own to guide his still inconsistent talent.

Like his brother Gabriele, Muccino makes films with a jarringly American pop sensibility. When Andrea and Charlie spend a day playing hooky from school, they do what people in American movies do: ride a Ferris wheel, play basketball and eat burgers and fries. None rings true in an Italian setting.

Though used only as a fleeting backdrop, the photography in Kenya is the film's visual high point.

Opened: Dec. 22 in Italy (Universal Pictures)
Production companies: Cattleya, Universal Pictures International
Sales company: Universal Pictures International
Cast: Silvio Muccino, Isabella Ragonese, Michael Rainey Jr., Maya Sansa, Greta Scacchi, Flavio Parenti
Director: Silvio Muccino
Screenwriters: Silvio Muccino, Carla Vangelista, based on Vangelista's novel
Producers: Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini, Marco Chimenz
Director of photography: Piergiuseppe Serra
Production designer: Andrea Rosso
Music: Stefano Arnaldi
Costume designer: Maurizio Millenotti
Editor: Cecilia Zanuso
No rating, 115 minutes