Cinematic Releases: They Call Me Jeeg (2017) - Reviewed

With the American superhero genre pretty much taking a complete stronghold on mainstream cinema throughout the world, it was only a matter of time before the Italians decided to jump on the bandwagon.  In director Gabriele Mainetti’s feature film debut They Call Me Jeeg, we get the goods comic book and superhero fans have come to love with a few surprises thrown in along the way.

Depicting a two-bit criminal of the Italian mob named Enzo (Claudio Santamaria) who inadvertently is poisoned by nuclear toxic waste before acquiring superhuman strength in the process, the film takes the tropes of the superhero origins story and transposes it into the heart of the modern Italian mob.  Think of Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah with Deadpool waging superhuman havoc on crime and you’ve got a rough idea.

Most of it is stuff we’ve seen before with bits of Unbreakable, The Toxic Avenger and even some small doses of Hancock.  What’s curious about They Call Me Jeeg are the loose connections it makes throughout to the 1975 mecha anime Steel Jeeg.  In addition to the title, Enzo soon refers to himself as Steel Jeeg protagonist Hiroshi as his girlfriend Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli) watches an episode of the show with him while knitting a Steel Jeeg mask on his behalf. 

Much like the animated show it only shares very thinly veiled relations to, there’s an energetic after-school special charm to the proceedings.  While an often violent, gritty and occasionally unpleasant picture, They Call Me Jeeg is pretty much an overgrown kid at heart, boiling down to an unpretentious battleground of good guys vs. bad guys with some delicious just desserts served more than once. 

Though it has your typical over-the-top psychotic villain played by Luca Marinelli with almost Ace Ventura comic energy what separates They Call Me Jeeg from the pack is how, like Unbreakable, it depicts an average everyman suddenly afflicted by strange powers he doesn’t fully understand.  Despite a low budget, technically speaking They Call Me Jeeg is sound with dynamic widescreen photography of the city of Rome and a decent mixture of CGI visual effects and old fashioned prosthetic effects.  

Wow. That's an amazing painting. I wonder how big the brush was. 

Yes the final showdown indeed devolves into cliché with a superhuman fight scene that’s simply too close to the now iconic Neo vs. Agent Smith battle concluding The Matrix for my liking and when you break it down They Call Me Jeeg still does a decent job by ultimately providing what the last ten or twelve American superhero films more or less did.  The setting of mob infested modern Rome is a fresh one to play out the superhero tropes and it was a fun package, just don’t expect it to break new ground.


- Andrew Kotwicki