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Thats a Spicy Meata-ball!

Profile: Soap opera parading as war drama that nonetheless manages to make this timeless point: if you're in a war, make sure you get top billing. That way, if you get shot, like, 100 times or a house falls on you, you're still golden. Not a scratch! Well, maybe one, but one of those Van Heusen shirt (or was it Arrow?) kind of injuries that requires a very cool eye patch. Plus your Italian accent will sound like you're channeling Jerry Colonna. Think Zorba the Greek meets Life Is Beautiful meets Mediterraneo meets Captain Corelli's General Hospital.

Symptoms: Nicolas Cage gets a lot of heat for his "That's a spicy meata-ball!" Italian accent, but little has been said about co-star Penelope Cruz. She manages the unthinkable—the Spanish beauty is so annoying in attempting to sound Greek that you can't wait for her to get offscreen. She does such a lame job of hiding her Spanish accent that I kept waiting for her to emote, "Oh, hhhow I hhhate these hhhorible Nahhhzis! Coochie coochie!" But there's so much more wrong—the romance that develops for no apparent reason, the fact that we all know nothing is going to happen to anyone with a name on the marquee, the awkward shift from frivolous love romp to gritty Nazi-atrocity flick. As to the frivolous part, the Italians are portrayed as fun-loving scamps who'd rather laugh than fight; it's like being occupied by Roberto Benigni, like the fun-loving way the Italians bombed, gassed and generally slaughtered thousands of Ethiopians. That's amore!

Script Doctor

Diagnosis: History is written by those with their names above the title.

Prescription: Get a dialect coach. I know we deal with the script here, but as this cast mumbles through its Hollywood Esperanto (all them foreigners sound alike), it all becomes too distracting. If Cruz can't catch on, you might think of casting her as a beautiful deaf mute, kind of a Children of a Lesser Zeus thing. As to the script, shorten the first half (where they fall in love) and get to the Italians-vs.-Nazis stuff in the second half, where there's actually some dramatic tension. By the way, your battle scenes are impotent, which might be clumsy filmmaking or because, you know, they're supposed to be Italians. Speaking of which, don't lose the Italian jokes. They were great. I haven't witnessed such a concentrated dose of Italian-bashing since my mother's family—the Carusos of Boston—last gathered for their semiannual reunion/airing of grievances.


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