Vancouver Italian Film Festival: They Call Me Jeeg

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      Starring Claudio Santamaria. In Italian, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      A Japanese manga from the 1970s provides the source, sort of, for Italy’s They Call Me Jeeg (sometimes named They Call Me Jeeg Robot), itself crying out for a bigger-budget U.S. reboot. Arriving in Vancouver as part of this year’s Italian Film Festival, this two-hour superhero epic is set in Rome, of all places, and is refreshingly free of Marvel-style special effects, with multiplex compensation coming from the old ultraviolence.

      Things centre on Enzo (Casino Royale’s sad-eyed Claudio Santa-maria), a low-end crook we meet while he’s running hard from a deal gone wrong. He escapes by jumping into the Tiber. The bad news is that the famous river is seriously polluted; the better news is that some radioactive effluvia can give you superhuman strength. Talk about an untapped market!

      Initially, Enzo doesn’t realize he’s on some kind of Toxic Avventura, but when he starts twirling thugs over his head and ripping ATMs out of walls, he and his fellow Romans notice something different. This hooded somebody shows up in local graffiti, itself hinting at the original manga, Steel Jeeg, which featured a race-car driver, named Hiroshi Shiba, who gradually took on a heroic role of super robot, along with the titular moniker. Enzo gets all Jeegy with this only because his neighbour Alessia (newcomer Ilenia Pastorelli) is obsessed with the Japanese cartoon series, glimpsed here at times.

      A highly sexualized girl-child, mentally unbalanced by abuse from some government official, the Alessia character is problematic on multiple levels. Actor turned filmmaker Gabriele Mainetti’s concentration on a flamboyant pretty-boy villain (Luca Marinelli) also carries some weird gender messaging, and it’s hard to know how seriously to take the overlong tale’s critique of mob corruption in government. There are many good popcorn moments, though, all done on the cheap. And there’s certainly no doubting the film’s sequel-readiness when our reluctant hero finally dons his robot helmet—even if it does happen to be made of macramé.