Director Davide Marengo’s first feature Night Bus combines a mildly twisting thriller with a ‘two people thrown together by chance’ romantic comedy with mixed results. As many films of this nature do, Night Bus opens with a scene which sets up the tale to come; it seems that the dramatic fulcrum of this movie is a microchip containing sensitive information that is being sought by several parties at great expense and for an even greater reward. This conceit may sound a little retro (think pre Pierce Brosnan James Bond films) but the film displays no real consciousness of this as it zigzags it way to poetic justice and romantic resolution.
Street-smart young siren Leila (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is a petty thief who specialises in passport theft, seducing unsuspecting men she meets at bars and clubs, luring them to room somewhere, drugging them, and relieving them of their personal possessions. Her latest victim – with an astounding lack in the self control department considering the deal he is about to carry out – unsuspectingly embroils her in a plot far more serious than she could have imagined which sees her dodging a couple of brutal killers. In making good her escape she stumbles upon barely likeable loser Franz (Valerio Mastandrea) – driver of the titular night bus – whose good nature she quickly takes advantage of and with whom she ends up on the run from the very determined bad guys. In the process the pair is slowly moved out of their respective disguises and apathy and, in Keanu & Sandra Speed like fashion, into an unlikely and completely unreasonable romantic relationship.
Unfortunately for Marengo his fusion of genres doesn’t really come together that well; Night Bus attempts to give equal credit to each but fails to do justice to either. I wonder if Marengo would have had more success focussing in on one or the other. Good examples of such genre mixing can be found in any of Tarantino’s work (Pulp Fiction standing out as the best of these) or Shane Black’s more recent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The thriller aspect of Night Bus seems like the poorer cousin, twice removed, to the likes of The Usual Suspects or Fight Club, being less serpentine than a patch-together of fairly linear plotlines. That Night Bus lacks any real sense of surprise or mystery means that it is not particularly compelling viewing. The bulk of the comedy derives from the interaction of Leila and Franz and the unintentional crossing of paths of the various groups. Though this creates the odd smile the fact that much of it can be seen coming from a long way off took some of the shine from mine.
I think many of the problems with this film lie in the characterisation; Leila and Franz ultimately fail to draw enough empathy for us to care what happens to them, or between them. Even if the scripting was tightened up and the plotlines overhauled this aspect would still leave Night Bus’ power to engage the audience severely limited. This is not to say that the film is a particularly arduous watch – it is light enough to sit through without completely turning off – but if this is to be your introduction to Italian cinema I think that you would be somewhat disappointed.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: M – contains violence and offensive language
Duration: 105 mins
Genre: Comedy Thriller
Director: Davide Marengo (2007)
Actors: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Valerio Mastandrea, Ennio Fantastichini, and Ivan Franek.