2016 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – THEY CALL ME JEEG (LO CHIAMOAVANO JEEG ROBOT)
If there’s any doubt that superhero cinema is the reigning genre of the moment, THEY CALL ME JEEG ought to cement that notion in place as part of the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival’s Cinema Hooligante program. Superheroes have mostly been confined to America and Japan to date, but now Italy is bringing their own take on the genre.
Directed by newcomer Gabriele Mainetti the first half of THEY CALL ME JEEG does its best to be a satire on the superhero genre while following through on the tropes of it. Small time crook Enzo (Claudio Santamaria), while fleeing from the law, ends up exposed to toxic chemicals which give him enhanced strength and healing abilities which he learns of after a drug deal gone wrong ends with the death of his older friend. Enzo at first uses his new found powers not for some higher calling but to continue his criminal ways by walking off with ATM machines. Deeds that make Enzo a YouTube sensation. But, through circumstances, Enzo ends up taking in his dead friend’s adult daughter Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli) who is around the bend, caught up in an elaborate fantasy world involving the Japanese animated show featuring a protector robot named Jeeg. She ends up living with Enzo, tasking him to be a hero not a crook, and he falls for her. Probably not least because her breast will fall out of her shirt at times.
The relationship between the two forms the heart of the film, it’s rather sweet and addresses sex in a way that American superhero films are often too chaste to tackle. And it’s romantic too, Enzo spinning a ferris wheel by hand for Alessia is the kind of romantic gesture that most superhero films don’t find time for anymore between their world building and sequel setups. But it’s also extremely problematic in that it’s an open question whether a woman as mentally disturbed as Alessia is can actually give consent. Perhaps that’s part of the satire, implying that mixing superheroes and the real world, and real relationships, simply isn’t healthy, but simply a crazy fantasy.
That crazy fantasy aspect is backed up by the villain of the film, a small time gangster named Fabio Cannizzaro / The Gipsy (Luca Marinelli). Gipsy is convinced that he was meant to be a star after appearing on a television talent show several years ago and yearns for the spotlight again. That Joker-like yearning for fame and attention is a defining character trait and helps make Gipsy a memorable villain with eccentricities and propped up with some memorable violence and threats of it that Paul Verhoeven would likely approve of.
But, THEY CALL ME JEEG never really reaches the heights of ROBOCOP and instead becomes increasingly conventional as it rolls along. The same issues plague KICK-ASS which can’t sustain it’s deconstruction for the full length and becomes increasingly conventional as it rolls along. In this case, Gipsy ends up with a like set of powers and there’s a final confrontation with Enzo having to prevent a bombing of a soccer stadium by Gipsy for attention.
THEY CALL ME JEEG does enough right to recommend, it’s low key superheroics at their best remind me of UNBREAKABLE and perhaps can be viewed as an off-shoot of Italian neo-realism, but it’s kind of caught in a nether region. It can’t compete with conventional big budget superhero films as far as spectacle and it abandons its satirical deconstruction midway so it’s not as fresh a perspective as it could be. But, Claudio Santamaria is compelling enough (and has an appropriate superhero voice as he has previous experience dubbing BATMAN films in Italian), Ilenia Pastorelli is a bright spot of offbeat energy and earthy sex appeal coupled with innocence, and Luca Marinelli makes a good villain, especially in a year where Hollywood has failed to deliver on the villainy department across the board. THEY CALL ME JEEG is something that the hardcore superhero fan should enjoy, but it’s not going to end up on anyone’s best of the year list.
THEY CALL ME JEEG plays one last time at the festival at midnight on Saturday, October 1 at the Times Theater. Tickets can be purchased at the Milwaukee Film Festival’s website.