- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sergio Castellitto seemed an expertly disarming lead in the German romantic comedy “Mostly Martha,” which cast him as an easygoing and confident chef. He squanders any good will earned from that role in exhibiting insufferable versatility as the star, director and co-writer of “Don’t Move” (exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema), reputedly a major hit in Italy last year.

The dubious frequently descends to the grotesque in this endorsement of a morose adulterer, a brooding and dishonorable physician named Timoteo. Furtive and unstable, he proves a deterrent to Mr. Castellitto’s comic skills. Regrettably, they are rarely on call in “Don’t Move,” which prefers grandstanding rants. Generous to a fault, Mr. Castellitto kind of alternates these outbursts with other performers, notably leading lady Penelope Cruz.

While spreading himself grievously thin, the filmmaker was closely allied with one particular collaborator: his wife Margaret Mazzantini, who authored the novel that inspired the movie. They share screenwriting credit.

The movie begins with a familiar pretext: a life in the balance in the present, as a suspenseful anchor during flashback explorations of the failings and regrets of the protagonist. While a teenage accident victim named Angela is undergoing surgery for head injuries, Mr. Castellitto’s wayward Timoteo, her father and a surgeon himself, ponders a seemingly misspent private life.

Although wed to the certifiably dishy Elsa (Claudia Gerini, an Italian counterpart for Sharon Stone in her prime), the doctor is preoccupied with recollections of a clandestine affair that began by chance years earlier. It mismatched him with a poor, submissive hotel maid named Italia (Miss Cruz, disguised as a haggard object of desire in the early going), the lonely occupant of a run-down little house in an abandoned apartment complex.

After virtually raping Italia (while drunk on two vodkas and annoyed at his malfunctioning car), Timoteo grows so fond of her yielding dependence that he retains her as a long-term mistress. He even contemplates coming clean with Elsa and starting a new life with Italia, but this prospect is discarded when both women playfully become pregnant at about the same time. While Timoteo looms as a potential Father of the Year, it occurs to you for about the 10th time that this plot would have much more promise and dignity as a romantic farce.

Professionally, the hero always seems a fraud. Never more so than when he’s allowed to commandeer operating rooms to demonstrate his impassioned superiority. Emotionally and morally, he remains a wretch. It’s especially ridiculous to see Mr. Castellitto hog all the vigil footage; Miss Gerini is sidetracked to London in order to keep her character off-camera during the daughter’s crisis. It’s erring husband and dad Timoteo who gets to suffer and rage ostentatiously.

The circumstances make it impossible for redemption to catch up with character or actor. What’s the appeal in a plot that can be reduced to the question, “Which of these three women should we sacrifice to tidy up the conscience of a miserable fellow?”

1/2*

TITLE: “Don’t Move”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter, with frequent morbid elements, occasional profanity, fleeting nudity and recurrent sexual vulgarity).

CREDITS: Directed by Sergio Castellitto. Screenplay by Margaret Mazzantini and Mr. Castellitto, based on her novel. Cinematography by Gianfilippo Corticelli. Production design by Francesco Frigeri. Costume design by Isabella Rizza. Music by Lucio Godoy. In Italian with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

WEB SITE: www.NorthernArtsEntertainment.com/DontMove

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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