“Made in Italy” is one of those movies where there’s a dilapidated villa in Tuscany that’s jointly owned by a father who’s an artist and a son who runs a gallery. You know, just like real life. No, they don’t get along. That, at least, is like real life. Along the way, good food is eaten, the scenery is fabulous, and when the son and a local woman meet cute she not only speaks excellent English but is gorgeous and endlessly understanding. There are some laughs. There are some tears. There’s even a little swearing. “Made in Italy” has been saddled with what must be the year’s least-deserved R rating.
So, yeah, it’s one of those movies. If it were any less original it’d be its own sequel. (“Remade in Italy”?) As written by James D’Arcy, making his feature directorial debut, it doesn’t so much have a plot as a recipe. It also has a twist. Liam Neeson and Micheál Richardson, who play the father and son, are father and son in real life. That’s rather sweet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t compensate for Richardson’s coming off as a twerpier version of the young Hugh Grant.
What “Made in Italy” has going for it is its star. What a strange career Neeson has had. He started out as this hulking Irish hunk, but with an undercurrent of menace that kept him from becoming a romantic lead. He was indispensable in “Schindler’s List” (1993), somehow managing to make plausible Oskar Schindler’s real-life combination of calculation and nobility. It was both a great performance and old-fashioned star turn — which was all the more remarkable because who had ever thought of Neeson as either an especially gifted actor or major movie star?
A decade later came the strangest turn of all. In his mid-50s, Neeson became wildly popular as a mini-genre unto himself, playing your basic nice-guy-turned-righteous-killing-machine in movies like the “Taken” series and “The Commuter.” That version of Neeson is nowhere to be seen in “Made in Italy,” of course, though it sure would make the father-son arguments memorable. Instead, that wonderful burr-filled voice is heard and gets put to excellent use. How excellent? Neeson manages to make the statement “I’m multi-tasking” work as a punchline.
If “Made in Italy” is a recipe, Neeson is its chief source of seasoning, though not the only one. Valeria Bilello has real charm in the thankless role of the Italian love interest. Lindsay Duncan’s delivery, as a local realtor catering to the English-expat trade, is crisper than burnt toast and a whole lot tastier. She wields her pageboy bob like a lethal weapon. When the time comes for Neeson to make “Taken 4,” he might want to borrow her hair.
MADE IN ITALY
Written and directed by James D’Arcy. Starring Liam Neeson, Valeria Bilello, Lindsay Duncan. Available on streaming platforms. 93 minutes. R (language). In English and a little Italian, with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.