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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Homie Spumoni
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by Jay Seaver

"Not quite as offensive as it sounds."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: I'd call "Homie Spumoni" cringe-worthy, except that it strikes me as the type of movie that would take that description as a badge of honor. The idea, after all, is to get a rise and a laugh out of pervasive but not malevolent racism. Like most of the characters, it's got a good heart that belies the crudity of its exterior.

The film opens with a flashback, as childless Italian couple Enzo (Alvaro D'Antonio) and Angelina (Michelle Arvizu) discover a baby floating down a nearby river in a basket. Since the bambino is black, they fear the reaction of their small town, and so set out for America. Twenty-five years later, the family is settled in Providence, where Renato (Donald Faison) works in Enzo's deli and volunteers at the animal shelter. It's there he meets Ally (Jamie-Lynn DiScala) when she's looking for a dog. The usual comic hijinks ensue because her mother has a nice jewish doctor picked out for her, but what really causes trouble is when Thelma (Whoopi Goldberg) and George (Paul Mooney) show up, claiming Renato is their long-lost "Leroy" - and they'd like him to come with them to Baltimore to get to know them and his older brother Dana (Tony Rock). This really throws Renato for a loop, since he had never been told that he was adopted, as opposed to being an unusually dark-skinned Italian immigrant.

The premise sounds ridiculous on the face of it, but holds up well enough once you figure Renato isn't likely to question his happy, loving family. Besides kicking the story into gear, it enables a very funny performance form Donald Faison. When you get right down to it, there's probably nothing extraordinarily difficult about the basic Italian-American city kid (who, having grown up in Providence, likes hockey far more than basketball) that Faison essays; it's just unusual for someone of Faison's skin color, so the audience is more likely to notice any slips (which Faison doesn't make). Faison deserves credit for more than pulling off a stock role without a hitch, though - he gives Renato kindness to go with his frequent crudity, and there's palpable hurt when Renato's world collapses around him.

Director Mike Cerrone (co-writing with his brother Steven and Glenn Ciano) seems to be trying to take the same approach as another set of Rhode Island filmmakers, the Farrellys (the Cerrones also wrote Me, Myself, and Irene), by telling jokes that could easily come off as nothing more than crass and offensive if it weren't abundantly clear how their hearts are in the right place. The filmmakers do manage this trick at a somewhat better than break-even pace, although they don't often manage to be really creatively appalling. A cop with a thick Irish accent using terms like "stovepipe" and "dago" isn't exactly cutting-edge satire, especially when nothing much is done to subvert it.

The support cast is also kind of hit-and-miss. Joey Fatone's best friend character Buddy suffers a bit since (per the Q&A) a running joke build around a certain bit of boorish behaviour got cut for length, leaving a payoff without quite enough setup. Whoopi Goldberg, on the other hand, is funnier than I can ever remember her being before. She puts Thelma on the border of heartwarming and psychotic in her devotion to "Leroy", generally going over the top in just the right way. Tony Rock is fairly entertaining as Renato's brother, trying to school him in the ways of blackness. It's a shame Jamie-Lynn DiScala isn't on Faison's level in terms of charm; they're a mismatch, but not a great one. The duet between the two that the film builds to is seriously underwhelming.

One thing that's interesting to note is how much more some of the casually racist comments make the audience wince when said on-screen than they might in real life. It's as if we can forgive a bad habit, but saying the same thing in a movie is the result of planning and effort. Indeed, the outtakes shown over the end credits are often nastier, but also funnier, if only because they're spontaneous.

The film does, as mentioned, do better than break-even on a high concept that seems like more than a bit of a long shot. It's also a nice spotlight for Faison, a funny guy who hasn't gotten nearly the boost from the critics' "Scrubs"-love as his co-stars have.

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originally posted: 09/12/06 13:04:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/14/06 mary Great movie--The Cerrone is a legend in the making!!!!! 5 stars
10/14/06 David Manion one of the funniest fims i have ever seen 4 stars
9/26/06 Peter Nourjian Having read the script before hand, I was surprisingly charmed by the final product. 4 stars
9/15/06 Susan The film was good, a bit predictable, but there were many laughs from the audie 4 stars
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