Tea With Mussolini

Bomb Rating: 

Anyone who's recently experienced WWII through the eyes of such features as "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Thin Red Line" may be astonished to learn the real story of how the Allies won the war: It all pivoted on a gaggle of little old British ladies in Florence, Italy. If this geriatric fantasy doesn't get neighborhood bridge clubs everywhere doddering into theaters with penny jars in tow, I don't know what will.

Mary (Joan Plowright), Arabella (Judi Dench) and Lady Hester (Maggie Smith) are British expatriates who balance an appreciation of the art and beauty of Florence with profound condescension toward its unwashed, repulsive Italian inhabitants. Their snobbery is enough to make one assume (incorrectly) that the British have made some sort of contribution to world culture since Shakespeare, and some contribution to world cuisine other than boiled meat. Together, they help raise the abandoned Luca (Charlie Lucas/Baird Wallace), director Franco Zeffirelli's autobiographical inner child, to disdain his countrymen as much as they do. Throw in a couple Americans with man problems (Cher and Lily Tomlin) and you have the kind of movie that inspires you to start compulsively checking your watch within the first five minutes.

Our protagonists drift blithely past Florence's landmarks while the winds of war breeze this way and that. Make no bones about it; war is hell: As Mussolini's thugs become increasingly militant, they storm into the Ufuzzi and break some of the ladies' fine china. As Italy officially declares war on Britain, Arabella's dog is (gasp) menaced. Then, as the Allies begin their slow, bloody struggle up the Italian peninsula, uptight Lady Hester realizes that the tea she once enjoyed with Il Duce (Lily Tomlin in a bold dual role) was in fact naught but a photo op. The horror!

The scariest thing in this movie, to be frank, is Cher, who looks like she arrived on the set fresh from a fight with Mary Kay. The Allies win (spoiler), and once we learn that the vanquishing troops happen to be Scots, the British condescension begins all over again, and we are left to wonder what, exactly, anyone here has learned. "Tequila with Mussolini" would have made a far more interesting film; short of that, give me some arsenic with Mussolini and put me out of my misery.

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