The relationship between brothers is a unique one to say the least, even if and especially when the two are not brothers in the literal sense. Brothers in crime is a method of storytelling that goes back before crime was even a cinematic genre. CLAUDIO CALIGARI’s NON ESSERE CATTIVO (Italian for DON’T BE BAD) is exactly that kind of movie. Although I’m not sure the filmmaker quite understands what it takes to make the genre work.
Vittorio and Cesare live a life of leisure in 1990s Ostia, a neighborhood of Rome. Their careless existence is fueled by cocaine, ecstasy, and alcohol, provided by a life of drug deals and petty scams. Cesare exudes a rage fueled by the tragedy of a dying niece, daughter of a sister long deceased. Vittorio’s rage is fueled by seemingly nothing. In fact, nothing seems to drive him, or to cause him to care about anything but himself. That is, until Vittorio befriends a single mother who helps him conceal a weapon during a desperate moment. Before this, the two of them seem to take turns; one being the level-headed criminal, and the other being the drugged-out lunatic, and vice versa. This vice versa goes on for a while, until Vittorio starts getting serious with his new relationship. He permanently becomes the level-headed non-criminal, and Cesare becomes the coked-out lunatic criminal.
The film seems to exist in some bizarre ‘other’ reality, where people are easily persuaded and criminals live in this dream-like existence of non-accountability and drunken abandonment. Even when the characters become self-aware in their various moments of clarity, the realities around them remain sterile to any consequence. Police officers seem to bumble around, as criminals and common people alike seem oddly unaware of each other’s actions. Whether this was done to make a point about something, or whether it’s just bad writing seems to escape me. I tend to think the latter. Being that I do not speak Italian, I cannot exactly complain about the terrible dialogue, yet nearly every subtitled film I have seen has had much better dialogue than this one.
It would be easy to make the obvious joke about the title. DON’T BE BAD should have taken its own advice and been good. The problem is that it isn’t bad, so much as that it’s incredibly mediocre. And these days, mediocre translates as bad: Not good enough to be good; Not bad enough to enjoy anyway.