That Woody Allen likes Rome in a crooning, “Volare” kind of way is evident in this fractured tourist brochure ditty, a skin-deep Berlusconi-era spoof — first titled “Bop Decameron,” then “Nero Fiddles” — that tries and fails (abjectly at times) to masquerade as an ensemble romantic comedy.
Allen manufactures four plot lines, three involving Italian middle class mores (including a mistaken-identity call girl, Pénelope Cruz; a famous-for-nothing clerk, Roberto Benigni; and an idealistic Italian leftist about to marry an American girl, Alison Pil), the fourth centered around a young American architect living in Rome (Jesse Eisenberg) who finds himself tempted by his best friend’s superficial girlfriend (Ellen Page). Lubricating the latter vignette is Allen stand-in Alec Baldwin, a “30 Rock” interloper who’s more cruel than funny. The withered Allen makes an appearance as the father of American bride-to-be Hayley (Pil). Typically, he’s a retired, morosely wisecracking music producer eager to make the groom’s caricatured father — played by Fabio Armiliato — into a successful opera singer (he sings arias in the shower).
But after “Midnight in Paris,” which put Paris on a pedestal, the Rome of this movie is little more than a beautiful gag site. The prettiest city on earth (it shows) must play host to a crass amalgam of cinema panettone clichés obviously aimed at lampooning sex scandals, fame obsession, and a country’s resulting cultural bankruptcy. It’s as if Allen heard an earful from anti-Berlusconi intellectuals and decided to have at their exaggerated earnestness (he also took their money, and some of their more veteran actors).
The TV fame “victim,” played by a funny but hapless Benigni, is absurdly named Leopoldo Pisanello (a tiny step from Leo “Mini-cock”), which more or less sums up the film’s girth and effectiveness.