Everything about the low budget coming of age drama Fondi ’91 is wrong in the worst possible ways. There isn’t a single thing that it attempts that it could possibly get right. It’s a few steps away from being as ludicrous as The Room, but this can’t even achieve those levels of awfulness thanks to just how ugly and hateful this whole exercise is. It’s poorly acted, terribly directed, reprehensibly written, and should never have been made in the first place. It’s just another in an increasing and profoundly distressing line of films to play at The Royal in Toronto. It might just be their last straw with me since now the three of the worst films this year to not be named Identity Thief have played there, making me question their booking policies and their very future with equal bits of curiosity and depression.
Anil (Raymond Ablack) plays for an American soccer team travelling abroad to rural Italy to play in a soccer championship. Or something like that. It’s never fully explained, nor do you even really see them playing another team since only five of the team members are ever seen on screen. He’s part of a pack of horny Jersey teenagers who just want to get laid overseas and could give a damn less about why they’re there in the first place. Anil takes a shine to the daughter of one of their host families despite her being an older woman, but he’s too shy to really say anything about it after hanging out with her for one night. A crisis of faith arises when one of Anil’s teammates attempts the rape of a local woman in an alley and he’s too cowardly to stop it.
If those last two elements of the plot synopsis don’t seem to go together, it’s because they never once meet on common ground with the former being inept and the other being sleazy and botched beyond belief. Both halves are so impossibly mounted that they amount to the worst possible forms of male adolescent fantasy. It doesn’t matter that Anil is an awkward character, but it does matter that his naiveté is completely unbelievable and buffoonish.
Ablack is thoroughly miscast as “the kid” of the group. Despite being the only brown player on the team, he towers over everyone, looks like he’s 30 and exudes way too much class to play a nerdy type. Then again, it’s not as if writer and director Dev Khanna has given him anything remotely useable to work with. Through painfully stilted narration, unrealistic dialogue (including pop culture references that would have happened after the film’s 1991 setting), and a script that’s determined to make Anil the creepiest human being possible, even a great actor couldn’t make something out of this garbage.
But that second half shift from useless romantic comedy (and filmed with a maddeningly inept shakycam style that seems amateurish and hopefully unintentional due to budget constraints) to a drama about a young man dealing with his inability to cope with witnessing a distressing crime makes this a complete mess. Anil deals with his own conflicted feelings by getting walked all over by the offending teammate and stalking the victim in his creepy way demanding answers, and even then he doesn’t understand Italian and he has to do it more than once.
I have to spoil the film, and it’s something that I never do, but towards the end when he finally catches up with the rape victim, she pretty rapes him and takes his virginity. It’s excusing rape and creepiness by way of another rape and I can’t think of a more singularly depressing and thoroughly wrongheaded way to put an end to the subject. Even worse is how this woman who had previously been screaming no seems to be getting some sort of sick and stress induced solace out of raping Anil, who’s played by an actor who has no clue what he’s even supposed to do in the scene. Then the film races to a half assed “that was the summer of my life” styled coda that’s completely unearned in every way because there was just a scene that blew off a rape, no, TWO RAPES in the worst possible way.
There are no characters, only thinly sketched ciphers that serve no purpose other than to forward two stories that spin their wheels without ever being interesting. It’s overblown, tacky dreck. On the positive side, it was filmed and Italy and Italy looks pretty stunning even throughout this film’s incompetence.