It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Johnny Stecchino" is, I am told, the highest-grossing film in Italian cinematic history. I am not able to account for this. It's on about the same level as some of Jerry Lewis' lesser works; one of those movies that would be over in a flash if all the characters were not dimwitted as gnats.
The story is one of those sagas of mistaken identity that depends on the victim not realizing that everyone thinks he is someone else. In this case, an innocent bus driver is used as a double for the most notorious Mafioso in Sicily. I don't know about you, but if I was a bus driver and everybody suddenly started treating me like the head of the mob, I'd notice it. I surely would.
The star is Roberto Benigni, who plays the dual roles of the innocent and the criminal, and also cowrote and directed the movie. You may recognize him from two Jim Jarmusch films, "Down By Law" and "Night On Earth" (he was the sacrilegious cab driver with the dying priest in the back seat). In Italy, he is enormously popular, a star on the order of Steve Martin or Woody Allen; they call him the Clown Prince. He must make those Jarmusch movies for love, since the money seems better in Rome.
But what can we make of this plot? Johnny Stecchino (the name is Italian for "toothpick") has become a witness against the mob, and there is a price on his head. His wife (Nicoletta Braschi) sees an innocent named Dante who, with the addition of a mole, will exactly resemble her husband. She invites Dante to Palermo, where he engages in a little petty crime - stealing bananas - and is amazed at the reaction. He doesn't realize everyone thinks he is someone else.
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