Learning Italian

Author: Kevin Reynolds
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 4
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

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Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

When two spies happily stationed in Sicily are reassigned, they decide not to leave, resulting in the government sending an assassin after them.

Synopsis:

CARL GOODWATER (late 30s) wakes up in bed with DONATA, his longtime girlfriend. She reminds him to go to the Squid Festival tonight. The two ride matching Vespas to their separate jobs. As they head into the small Sicilian village of Porto Vintino, they see the small blimp known as “Med Zeppelin” floating across the Mediterranean toward Italy. Carl passes several friends along the way to his small shop. One of them, an old mailman named FIGUERO, playfully observes that Carl’s lived in the village for 12 years but has never learned to speak Italian. Carl runs a small, comically unsuccessful satellite TV shop. When he goes inside, it turns out Carl is using the shop as a front for a CIA operation. His handler communicates with him through false classified ads, which Carl plugs into an encrypted TeleType-like device. Carl’s interrupted by AIMO and a couple of mobsters, who announce DON LUPANO wants to see Carl immediately. They take Carl to Lupano’s villa, where he’s having trouble with his satellite dish. Carl notes that Lupano’s in the cable TV business, singlehandedly destroying Carl’s satellite business, so maybe he should switch. Lupano doesn’t want to. When nobody’s paying attention, Carl surreptitiously repairs electronics that indicate Carl uses this satellite to spy on Lupano.

Carl returns to his shop, turns on an LCD monitor that shows Lupano having lunch with various business associates. Carl types messages to his handler, who tells Carl his mission is over and he must return to Washington ASAP. Carl asks where they’re sending him, and the handler writes that it’s a secret, then ends communication. Upset, Carl stares at a framed photo of himself and Donata. That night, he goes to the festival and meets up with his best friend, NERO, and Nero’s girlfriend, LAURA. They lovingly argue with one another. Nero wonders why Carl looks so nervous. Donata arrives, and Carl takes her to talk privately. Donata thinks Carl’s trying to propose, so she’s through for a loop when Carl tells her his “Uncle Sam” has decided to stop giving him money, so Carl must close his shop and return to the U.S. tomorrow. Donata’s so enraged, she leaps into the water and swims to get away from him. Disappointed, Carl returns to his apartment to pack. Nero arrives and asks what he’s doing. Carl lies, but Nero tells him he knows Carl is CIA. Carl’s stunned, moreso when Nero tells him he’s KGB. Carl laughs that the KGB no longer exists. Nero says the FSB is basically the same organization. They exchange actual names, cover names, and code names, and assignments. Carl was assigned to spy on Lupano; Nero was assigned to keep tabs on Carl. In all their time here, nobody got an real dirt on anybody. Nero’s angry because, now that Carl has to leave, so will Nero. Like Carl, Nero has built a life in Sicily that he doesn’t want to abandon. Carl jokes that if the place had WMDs, they’d be able to stay. This gives them an idea…

Carl sends a message to his handler that Al Qaeda has set up a chemical weapons factory outside the village. The handler writes back that they’ll have a satellite over the area in seven hours to confirm. Now Carl and Nero have to fabricate a weapons factory, but neither of them knows what one looks like. After trying to deal with slow dial-up at an Internet café, Carl and Nero give up and go to the Med Zeppelin office, where Donata and Laura work. Carl thinks Donata is coming to apologize and is angry that he just wants to use her computer. She storms away, allowing Carl and Nero to pull up photos of weapons factories. They go to an ancient fortress, a tourist trap, with rudimentary construction equipment to convert it into something that will look like a weapons factory from above. They just barely get it ready in time for the satellite sync-up. After a few moments, Carl is shocked to see missiles heading toward them. He chases all the tourists away, and he and Nero barely escape the explosion. They return to Carl’s shop, where a message waits: “Nice work. Now come home.” Carl and Nero get drunk as they discuss their disappointing fates. It slowly dawns on both of them that if they report to their respective agencies that they’ve exposed on another and are in pursuit, they’ll be allowed to stay in Sicily. They send reports to their respective handlers, but the international intelligence community picks up the messages, so both the CIA and the FSB realize Carl and Nero have filed contradictory reports. To solve the problem, both agencies decide to have Carl and Nero killed. That day, Carl returns to his apartment. It explodes just before he enters the building. Realizing something’s wrong, Carl runs to Nero’s houseboat. Nero uses a telescope to spy on a nude sunbather, but he drops it in the water. Nero dives in after it as his houseboat explodes.

Hiding in the ruins of an old Greek temple, they use the telescope to spy down on the village, where they see nothing but goons in sunglasses. Carl watches Donata weep and grieve for what she assumes is a dead Carl. She’s consoled by her new boyfriend, ROBERTO. Carl leaps out of the temple, chasing her. Nero chases him. They hide in an alley and run into a weeping Laura. She’s thrilled that he’s alive, but the moment Nero sends her away, hitmen are on top of them. Unarmed, Carl and Nero narrowly escape the hitmen by hiding. Aimo and some mobsters arrive. Carl and Nero are thrilled to see them, until they unleash tasers. Carl and Nero are taken to Don Lupano, who’s angry about assassins overrunning the town and blowing everything up. He asks if this has to do with their affiliations with the CIA and FSB. Carl and Nero are stunned that he’s aware, so they come clean about what has happened. Lupano observes that if they leave the village or are killed, he’ll have no one to fix his satellite or catch calamari for him. Nero considers killing the assassins, but Lupano knows they’ll just send more, and Lupano can’t hide them without provoking a Mob war with the intelligence world. Lupano allows them to stay the night so they can relax and come up with a solution. That night, both the CIA and the FSB are disappointed in their assassins’ efforts. They call an Icelandic assassin, IVARSSON, as their last resort.

Unable to think of a solution, Lupano sends Carl and Nero off with 100 euros. In the village, Ivarsson finds and shoots at them almost immediately. They both realize it’s Ivarsson and are terrified that their agencies would go to such lengths to have them killed. It leaves them with no choice: abandon their plans and live Sicily forever. They have no choice but to hide for the rest of their lives. They go to Carl’s shop to retrieve his gun. There, hitmen surround the place, waiting. Carl tries to sneak past but is surprised when all the hitmen are killed, one by one, by a hidden sniper — Ivarsson. Too afraid to go into the shop, he and Nero leave. At the Med Zeppelin blimp, Donata and Laura are surprised by how many foreigners are arriving and leaving, and how many of them are carrying violin cases. The last passenger to arrive is Ivarsson. Laura won’t let him on, so he threatens her with his gun. Donata refuses to let him board. The blimp takes off, heading for Italy. Secretly, Carl and Nero ride on top of the actual blimp itself, clinging to its webbing. When they arrive in Italy, Carl immediately yells at Donata about Roberto. She’s shocked he’s alive but angry that his only interest is in chastising her. She gets angry and board the blimp for its return trip. Watching her go, Carl decides they must go back to the village.

Nero tries to talk Carl out of it, but Carl’s determined. They see Figuero on the docks, loading his mail barge, and accompany him back to Sicily. Carl asks him to drop them at Donata’s villa. They spy it through binoculars and find Ivarsson waiting outside. Instead, Figuero takes them to the village docks. Carl and Nero return to Lupano’s villa. Lupano asks if them if they’ve come up with a plan. Carl tells him they have, but he and Nero need to discuss it. Lupano gives them a moment of privacy, during which time Carl stuffs his pockets with Lupano’s money. When Lupano returns, Carl tells him their only choice is to leave Sicily, and they need Lupano’s help. Knowing about the spy equipment, Carl whispers the plan to Lupano, who thinks it’s good. After Carl and Nero leave, Lupano announces to Aimo that this is their last chance — if this plan fails, Aimo is to kill them. Meanwhile, Ivarsson watches the entire exchange from Carl’s office.

The next morning, Donata goes to work, undisturbed by Ivarsson. The next day, Carl and Nero arrive at the blimp port wearing surprisingly bulky jackets. They wait for Lupano, but Ivarsson arrives first. Left with no choice, Carl and Nero steal the blimp. Nero attempts to fly it using only his boat-piloting knowledge, while Ivarsson starts shooting holes in the blimp. Carl climbs up into the balloon and tries to patch the holes. Despite his efforts, the blimp starts to sink. Carl tells Nero to throw everything overboard, to serve as both a distraction and to lighten the weight. Nero throws everything — including his bulky jacket, which makes Carl panic. Carl starts shooting at the blimp’s gondola, attempting to separate it from the balloon. Carl and Nero climb into the balloon as the gondola collapses. Aimo and the mobsters arrive. Ivarsson starts shooting at the randomly floating balloon. It loses enough helium to collapse. Ivarsson can’t get inside the balloon. Carl and Nero attempt to sneak out. Ivarsson shoots at them, but he used up all his ammo bringing down the blimp. Carl announces he’s glad to see Aimo, just as Aimo and his men fire machine guns, shooting Carl and Nero multiple times. Ivarsson takes a photo with his cell phone and sends it to the CIA and FSB. Donata is horrified, but it turns out to be all part of the plan — Aimo loaded their jackets with squibs to make everyone think they got killed. Carl apologizes to Donata. Some time later, Carl and Donata have a dual wedding with Nero and Laura at the Greek temple ruins.

Comments:

Learning Italian attempts to turn a spy thriller into slapstick comedy. Although the script contains a few good jokes, the story suffers as a result of its inconsistenct characters and sloppy plotting. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act does a good enough job establishing Carl’s idyllic life in Porto Vintino, before throwing in the big hitch that he must now leave for reassignment. The twist that Nero is a Russian agent is novel and amusing, but the second act is a complete mess. At first, they’re so bent on staying in Sicily that they fabricate an elaborate weapons factory. However, throughout the second act they keep changing their minds between leaving and staying, with no rhyme or reason. Wanting to hide from an assassin squad is a fine reason to want to leave, but the writer never provides them with compelling or believable reasons to stay. Carl wanting to win back Donata is simply not enough.

The third act manages to wrap up the messy plot as neatly as it can, but the whole thing gets bogged down in an extended blimp shootout that goes on far longer than it needs to. What starts as mildly amusing turns tedious rather quickly, and as a result, most of the story’s resolution is packed into the last couple of pages. In some cases, this is all right — Aimo pretending to kill Carl and Nero is reasonably satisfying — but when it comes to the relationship between Carl and Donata, a brief, bland apology does not seem like enough to sway her, considering she’s spent the bulk of the story enraged at him.

The writer tries to use the relationship between Carl and Donata as the glue that holds the sloppy story together, but it never quite succeeds. The fact that Donata has such wild mood swings is presented as a joke, but after the initial laughs, it will just make audiences wonder why Carl’s fighting so hard to stay with her. Carl and Nero share a loyal friendship that’s entirely devoid of conflict. It seems like a missed opportunity to not give them some animosity after more than a decade of betrayal. Since most of their scenes involve fighting nebulous enemies they never interact with on a personal level, a little bit of clashing between Carl and Nero would give the script some much-needed drama.

The attempts at slapstick humor never makes up for the action sequence’s lack of invention. Although the dialogue is sporadically amusing, it can’t overcome the story and character problems. Maybe a talented cast and crew can pull it off, but the script doesn’t show much potential for success.

Posted by D. B. Bates on May 9, 2009 11:04 AM