Emerging Pictures // 2003 // 82 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // April 11th, 2007
The Papa Johns of Romantic Comedies.
Fresh out of college, Angela Rossi (Robin Paul, Little Kings) wants to help her dad Vincent (Vincent Pastore, Corky Romano) drum up more business. His pizza parlor is locked in mortal combat with competitor and longtime family rival Frank Bianco (Frank Vincent, Raging Bull), so keeping customers is tough. Some love the Rossis' rich sauce. Others prefer the Biancos' perfectly baked crust. When their enmity gets out of hand, their former mentor and neighborhood mediator Emilio (Louis Guss, Moonstruck) decides to hold a contest. Whoever can make the best pie wins his "blessing"and the increased sales that will supposedly come with such a stamp of approval. Naturally, an obsessed Frank will stop at nothing to succeed. He steals the Rossis' recipes and even convinces his son Tony (Conor Dubin, Wannabes) to ask Angela out, hoping she'll spill the rest of the family secrets. What Pops doesn't know is that Tony is fascinated with Angela, a love he hides in his frequent cartoon doodles. As the big day looms, both clans are on pins and needles. Only our young almost-lovers seem oblivious to the stakes at hand. But there are significant surprises along the way as A Tale of Two Pizzas unfolds in what turns out to be some very traditional ways.
Laden with stereotypes and telegraphing its finale a good hour before the film actually ends, A Tale of Two Pizzas is too good-natured to hate. True, it does try one's patience, pouring on the "paisan" with reckless abandon, and some of the scenes do seem stolen directly out of an Airplane!-esque spoof of the entire Martin Scorsese/Francis Ford Coppola canon, but the lack of any real grand ambitions keeps us and the storyline centered. For first-time feature filmmaker Vincent Sassone, a life in service of one's Italian heritage has led to a tendency toward turning every individual in the cast into a walking, talking extra from The Sopranos, and when he's not mining the Mediterranean for his overall approach, he's digging deep into the typical neighborhood nonsense of feuding families and competing culinary stakes. It's hard to tell which narrative thread is more unbelievable -- that these Yonkers broods are creating the best pizza on their block or that the Rossi and Bianco families can't see the lasting business benefits of pairing up. Sassone strives for some individual depth, only slightly screwing with the romantic comedy formula. But even the strong performances from the mostly professional cast can't compete with some of the more mechanical and misguided elements this movie has to offer.
For one, the entire double date sequence between Tony, Angela, and a pair of their pals is just stupid. We know where it's going the minute it's started, and the last-minute sight gag has us groaning, not laughing. Similarly, the love affair with a younger woman who has split the Bianco family apart is pathetic. Frank Vincent is one macho guy, yet Sassone requires him to play a typical middle-aged member of the male menopause society. His desperation is just disturbing. Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore is nothing more than a goombah with a chip the size of his stomach sitting on his shoulder. He's all bluster and blubber, barely registering as a human, let alone a local food service titan. More importantly, the entire blood feud between these two is never explained -- at least, not satisfactorily. We hear something about personal jealousy and bad business acumen, but there is nothing in such explanations to confirm the hatred we see on screen. They're so skilled at pushing the vendetta buttons, thanks to years working in the mob movie milieu, that Vincent and Pastore make impressive angry combatants, though. When they come at each other with a pair of pizza paddles during one of the movie's supposedly slapstick fight sequences, we don't know whether to laugh or cover our eyes in fear. Since this is a PG movie, however, there is no bloodletting. There's no cursing, violence, sexuality, or dramatic weight, either.
There are a few saving graces here, luckily. For her part, Patti D'Arbanville is absolutely brilliant, instilling her miserable married matron with a sly sensuality and sense of purpose that many in the cast can't find. Similarly, Conor Dubin does a good job of balancing his slick haired wife-beater outer image with his sensitive cartoonist inner world. The sequences where Sassone mixes animation with reality to give us a glimpse into this fun fantasyland are indeed quite effective. Because Pastore and Vincent are more or less regurgitating every cinematic stereotype of the Italian heritage, it's nice to see Ed's Robin Paul as a subtle Roman princess. Unfortunately, she's so slight as to be almost non-existent. Indeed, part of the problem with A Tale of Two Pizzas is that it wants to get by with recognizable riffs instead of strict narrative originality. When the story isn't borrowing from Shakespeare or any other star-crossed lovers tale, it's referencing Goodfellas and other movies set in Brooklyn, Queens, or any place where guys named "Ant-nee" and girls named "Ain-ja-la" hang out. Instead of going for depth, Sassone goes for dependable, and his frequently laughable dialogue reflects this fact. We keep waiting for the climatic moment where deep-seated wounds are opened, family falling-outs are investigated and healed, and all is right in the sausage and pepperoni world. But A Tale of Two Pizzas doesn't have enough imagination or creativity to take this path. Instead, it sticks to the Via Predictablia, and we have to sit through all 82 minutes of the ride.
Since it plays like a TV movie on overdone ambitions, it's no surprise that this privately released DVD looks "made for boob tube" friendly. Presented in a fairly unexciting anamorphic widescreen image -- situated somewhere between 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 -- the colors are soft and the details rather lacking. It's only when the movie switches over into animation mode that the picture comes alive. As for the sound, a rather derivative Dolby Digital 5.1 mix does little to lift the actual dialogue or other cinematic elements. For the overdone metropolitan jazz score (and occasional indie pop flop), on the other hand, the speakers practically sing. A clear sign that the movie never fully benefits from the multi-channel offering is the fact that, when switching between the 5.1 and standard Stereo 2.0, there's very little difference. And don't even begin to look for added content here. Apparently, a commentary or interview EPK was too much for Emerging Pictures to provide. Either that or no one involved with this film had anything interesting to say in retrospect. In any case, some context would have been nice, but with a movie this minor, it's not mandatory -- or missed.
There will be easily entertained members of the home video audience who will immediately cotton to this pasta and meatballs merriment. They will laugh at the lame jokes and nod their head in devilish delight at the "that's Italian" take on everything involved. Others will demand more than some pizza pie in the sky superficiality. While it's genuinely likeable and easy to digest, this Tale of Two Pizzas is like your typical Domino's delivery. While it claims to be the real thing, it's guilty of being just a sad, sugar-laced imitation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Emerging Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Official Site