Italian director Claudio Caligari directed Non Essere Cattivo (Don’t Be Mean or Don’t Be Bad, depending on if you trust the film’s own subtitles or its IMDb entry) while battling cancer, and passed away not long after it was completed. His career spanned nearly 4 decades, yet only yielded 7 films, a near-even split between his early documentaries and the crime films of his later years. Filmed and originally released in 2015, Don’t Be Bad plays very much by the rules of '90s indie cinema with a familiar look and feel to films of this era, which is appropriate as the film is set in 1991. Unfortunately, the finished product doesn’t measure anywhere near the films it appears to be emulating.
Don’t Be Bad tells the story of Cesare (Luca Marinelli) and Vittorio (Alessandro Borghi), best friends in their early 20s working hard and grifting harder to support their families and their drug habits. Soon Vittorio is faced with the difficult decision of leaving his best friend behind to save himself, or continuing down a road of debauchery and crime that could destroy his family. The strong bonds of friendship are very much a central theme in the film.
Despite impressive performances from its cast, particularly the two leads, there just isn’t much to Don’t Be Bad. The film plays mostly like a far less kinetic, disinteresting cousin to Trainspotting, slogging ahead at a pace much lower than its 100-minute runtime might suggest. The characters have little to no depth and are defined too heavily by their faults. Don’t Be Bad stands on a flimsy foundation of friendship and debauchery, and never really manages to be “about” anything. It is an uncharacteristically dull slog through far too well-worn territory.
|Dude. This doesn't cover half the crack rock I gave you.|
Don’t Be Bad was Italy’s official entry for Best Foreign Film for the 2016 Academy Awards. It’s easy to see why it didn’t make the cut. Even its charismatic leads couldn’t save it from being a meandering, toothless clone of dozens of films that came before it. One can see in every scene, every frame how hard Don’t Be Bad is trying to be resonant and meaningful and shake the viewer to their core, but it never comes close. It’s a shame that Don’t Be Bad was Caligari’s final film, as a man who so obviously loved the films of Scorsese and Tarantino and Danny Boyle certainly could have made a film that did its inspirations justice. Sadly, as hard as it tries, Don’t Be Bad doesn’t come close to being that film.
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