Made In Italy
Credit: IFC Films

If Tom Hanks has officially come to own the title of America’s Dad, Liam Neeson is more like the Irish uncle who took you to your first bar: rugged, rowdy, a little bit of a scamp.

Having found his late-career calling as a sort of one-man suicide squad in silver-haired thrillers like Taken, The Commuter, and Cold Pursuit, the 68-year-old star of Schindlers and Star Wars seems almost too muscular a presence for a wan romantic dramedy like Made in Italy.

And he is almost criminally underused in it, though the bigger disappointment, maybe, is the movie’s lack of vicarious travelogue thrills in lockdown: This is Italy? Give me villas and rolling hills! Dappled sunlight falling on cypress trees! Olive oil running like a river of dreams!

Writer-director James D’Arcy does deliver Tuscan sun, nominally, but it’s a weak beam. Michael Richardson (Vox Lux) is Jack, a twentysomething London gallerist whose job is about to disappear along with his divorce papers; his soon-to-be ex’s parents own the place, and they're as done with him as his daughter is.

And so he rouses his own semi-estranged father, Robert (Neeson, who is also Richardson's dad in real life), a lapsed painter and part-time Lothario, to return to the family vacation home in Italy — a place neither has gone back to since the loss of Jack’s mother some 15 years before.

If Jack can fix it up quick and sell it, he may be able to buy his life back. If not, at least they’ll get a few good mildly entertaining montages out of it — and maybe romance, too. (Is there a beautiful chef at the local trattoria ready and waiting to fill Jack’s soul with risotto? Could the chilly local estate agent possibly warm up to Robert’s shenanigans? You get two guesses.)

This is the directing debut for D’Arcy, a gifted British actor with a long-ranging career across both movies (Dunkirk, Cloud Atlas) and television (Broadchurch, Homeland). Maybe that’s why his identity as a filmmaker seems so vaguely unformed here.

The concept is diverting enough, but so familiar it borders on déjà vu, and he cloaks it all in a sort of cable-TV sensibility that serves neither the gorgeous locations nor the pat machinations of the script. The soundtrack leans heavy on generically jangly indie rock and songs straight from some ersatz Italian Cooking playlist on Spotify; the script lists and dawdles where it should be shrewd or funny or poignant (though there is one great line about a bread-sized rodent).

It feels almost churlish to fault the film for its weightlessness, when light is exactly what movies like this are meant to provide: a fizzy, sun-drenched escape from the pale monotony of our own lives. Except that it so often fails to fizz — or even feel like it’s made, in fact, in Italy and not some remote sound stage stocked with linguine and carefully patina'd stucco. Made has the passport; it just doesn’t take you there. C+

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