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THE MONSTER (IL MOSTRO)

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Roberto Benigni, Michael Blanc, Nicoletta Braschi
Director:  Roberto Benigni
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer, Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files
Length:  112 Minutes
Release Date:  October 5, 1999

Film ***

I, like many Americans, were officially introduced to Roberto Benigni by his amazing film from last year, Life is Beautiful.  Although a comedy icon in his native Italy, he was relatively unknown in the United States for years, with the possible exception of the awful Pink Panther sequel he starred in.  He has been compared to Charlie Chaplin, and with good reason.  Heís a masterful comic with an impeccable sense of timing and rhythm, who can communicate fluently with silent physicality, and who can and does write, direct, and star in most of his own pictures.  One film by him that I had heard about for years, even before LIB was The Monster, and I was very happy to finally get to view this movie on DVD.

For those who saw LIB first, like me, I have to say this movie might seem a bit of a let down.  The reason is that itís sheer light hearted comedy.  Nothing wrong with that, and Benigni does it as well or better than most, but thereís just no way that this film could ever compare to his more recent masterpiece.

Itís basically an old tried and true premise, but with a few twists.  Benigni plays a comical down-on-his-luck con man named Loris who gets mistaken by the police for a monstrous murdererÖone who seems to release his sexual frustration by brutally killing women.  They think they have their man, but with no hard evidence, they decide to try and provoke him and catch him in the act.  Enter Jessica (Braschi, Benigniís wife), a police woman assigned to do the deed.  Ms. Braschi was also in LIB, but I have to say, her work in that film will not prepare you for her performance here.  Her job is to arouse Loris, and she does so in ways that are both extraordinarily funny and sexy.

Benigniís gift as a comic filmmaker is in his sense of rhythm.  Some gags fly quickly, with little set up and little down time afterwards.  But in other instances, heíll quietly build a big laugh you might not see coming.  Watching his misadventures one morning, for example, which are filled with bits of slapstick and visual humor, and realizing later that a lot of what he did has shown up in a police film, where his actions and deeds are completely misinterpreted.  Good stuff.

This is a funny, solid comedy, and to say that itís not as good as Life is Beautiful is hardly a dismissal.  I personally didnít think any film in 1998 was as good as that one, and there were some terrific movies out there that year.  The Monster simply has to be taken for what it isÖa master funnyman making you laugh, out loud and often.  Itís certainly a good time.

Video ***

This is a mostly good transfer from the folks at Columbia Tri Star.  The only complaint, and it may not be a transfer flaw, is that overall the colors seem a tad dull, as though the film were a lot older than it is.  But no complaints on the sharpness of the images, and the print is certainly free from grain and bleeding. 

Audio **1/2

The soundtrack seems fine, but I confess I didnít pay it much attention since I watched the original Italian language version with subtitles (there is an English language track if you prefer).

Features **

A trailer and a talent file on Roberto Benigni.

Summary:

The Monster is delightfully funny romp that truly is in the spirit of Charlie Chaplin, or even Buster Keatonís The Goat.  Roberto Benigni is perhaps one of the funniest men alive, and with this DVD, and hopefully more releases in the future, I canít help but think that America will continue to warm to his winning comedic ways and charm.