Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 13th, 2020
D.N.A. Definitely Not Appropriate (“D.N.A.: Decisamente non adatti”) (Lillo & Greg, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
The Italian comics Lillo and Greg (aka Pasquale Petrolo and Claudio Gregori) are part of a long tradition of wise-cracking partners of stage and screen. And like such forebears as Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello, each half of the team is differently proportioned, with Lillo (Petrolo) the rounder and shorter of the two. He’s also, at least in their latest film, D.N.A. Definitely Not Appropriate, the tougher and meaner one, a bully to the taller (and less round) Greg (Gregori). Though this particular vehicle for their talents is no towering achievement in the annals of cinematic comedy, it has its moments of genuine hilarity, thanks to an outrageously silly premise that is impossible to take seriously and appealing performances from the writers/directors/stars. A surprise twist ending helps, as well, turning what had been a somewhat saccharine conclusion into something far better. Is this great art? Hardly. But it is often decent fun.
Gregori plays the hapless Ezechiele, a geneticist who has always been a timid sort, despite his academic brilliance. We meet him first, in a prologue, as a boy, forced by his smaller, yet more forceful, classmate Nando to give up all sorts of possessions in the schoolyard. Cut to the present, and Ezechiele now teaches and researches at a university, where everyone still either mocks or ignores him. One day, he crosses paths with the adult Nando (now played by Petrolo), who is still just as much of a crass brute as ever, and this chance encounter, though initially traumatic for the professor, plants the seed for a reversal of fortune. Therein lies the spark from which the narrative flames will flow.
Nando, it seems, works for a villainous fast-food chain as a terrorizer of local businesses who stand in the way of expansion. His job is to walk into local stores with his gang, destroy the place, and then encourage the owners’ rapid departure. One day, however, he is disturbed by the contempt in which his boss evidently holds him, and remembering his recent contact with Ezechiele, seeks him out so the more cultured man can teach him refinement. His arrival coincides with the professor’s advances in an experiment he is conducting to transfer personalities between two different creatures (in his lab, it’s a mouse and a bird), and presto, Ezechiele sees a way to not only change who he is, but to get back at the years of lingering pain from childhood injury. And so, with a jab of a needle, a linking of wires and other scientific gobbledygook, Ezechiele becomes the man he has always wanted to be, and Nando gets his comeuppance. The end. Or, as they say in Italian, “Fine.”
Not so fast. There are plenty of shenanigans to follow. Some involve the recalibration of Ezechiele’s home life, where his wife has forever wanted a more dominant partner; some involve Nando’s sudden infatuation with a bookstore owner who, herself, has always desired a more refined kind of lover. Both women are played by the delightfully talented Anna Foglietta (Tainted Soul), who also plays a trans sex worker who doubles as a sort of therapist for Nando. None of it is subtle, and much of it plays into misogynist tropes (even with a broad wink and a nudge), but since the men are fairly miserable, as well, there is lots of nastiness to go around. Add in a subplot about a serial killer and an arrogant celebrity vegan chef, and while nothing may be appropriate, enough is funny to keep the proceedings going. The good will and good humor of all involved make it work, even when the script does not. Molto bene? Abbastanza …
[D.N.A. Definitely Not Appropriate plays July 15 as part of the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles’ “From Italy with Laughter: A Comedy Film Festival.”]