A TALE OF TWO PIZZAS

NR
Reviews

"There's a lot to be said for making people laugh," concludes the film-director hero of Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels in that film's closing lines. "Did you know that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan."

A Tale of Two Pizzas is the initial presentation of Cockeyed Caravan Productions, and it is no empty pledge of allegiance to Preston Sturges. Writer-director Vincent Sassone, a new hyphenate in town, has cooked up an engaging little feel-good flick on a shoestring budget-and done it in a way that would doubtlessly win Sturges' approval: namely, by placing the comedy accent squarely on character and letting the actors do the cooking.

Contrary to the title (which suffices as an adequate plot summary), the movie has nothing to do with Dickens and everything to do with Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet have moved from 16th-century Verona to 21st-century Yonkers-the low-rent district, at that-and their warring clans run rival pizza parlors. The Biancos corner the crust market; the Rossis are sauce specialists. And never the twain meet-until Angela Rossi returns to the hood with a degree in marketing from F.I.T. and catches the eye of Tony Bianco. With a little coaxing from Pop, he agrees to go on romantic reconnaissance for the sauce secret.

It's the kids' film, of course, but the unbudgable boundaries are set by a couple of craggy household faces, Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore, both goodfellas in good standing and graduates of "The Sopranos," who play the two pizzeria patriarchs. What they lack in name value, they make up for in old-shoe familiarity and plausible sparring-partner chemistry.

The amorous kind of chemistry is concentrated in the film's soft center, where the second-generation contenders opt to make love, not pizza. At the outset, there's a slight chemical imbalance-Robin Paul comes on pretty strong and mops up the floor with Conor Dubin (degrees seem to do that to a woman when she is confronted with an undereducated counter-boy, apparently)-but once the mutual attraction kicks in, she brings it down a notch or two and they are suddenly, sensually, very simpatico.

Easily the most compelling portrayal is the least pushy-the wonderfully wise and weary one that Patti D'Arbanville gives, almost offhandedly, of Vincent's estranged wife. Here is a woman who has had it up to here but is determined not to be dragged down by her travail. Louis Guss as the area's retired pizza king, who creates the conflict when he splits his cooking secrets between two pizza princes, also gets his turn to stir the caldron.

The resolution to the chaos is simple-if not simplistic-but only love-blurred eyes can see it. It all ends in an orgy of hold-the-anchovies pizza and peace-in-the-valley camaraderie.

Budgetary restrictions are always in plain sight, but Sassone rounds off the rough edges with a couple of unexpected tricks. One is some animation flourishes from Jeff Drew which finish off a scene and lead into the next. The other-and this is the film's most seductive asset-is an insistent, scene-to-scene R&B soundtrack (composed by Peter Fish and more often than not performed by Nat King Cole's brother, Freddy Cole). It's cozily close to the characters and underscores the upbeat lilt of a sweet little film with heart.

-Harry Haun