Checco Zalone is the new King of Italian comedy.
24 Jan 2011 - 11:52 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 7:30 AM

Italian TV comic Checco Zalone stars as an inept security guard who gets mixed up in a terrorist plot to bomb Milan's Duomo Cathedral in Che bella giornata (What a Beautiful Day, pictured).

It sounds silly and some critics labeled the movie as forgettable but the comedy opened bigger than Avatar in Italy and is now the country's top-grossing Italo title of all time, behind Roberto Benigni's La vita e' bella (Life is Beautiful).

Launched on a super-wide 850 screens on January 5—the biggest ever for a local release—the movie co-written by Zalone and director Gennaro Nunziante raked in €31.5 million ($A42.5 million) in 10 days, selling 4.8 million tickets. It's unlikely to overtake Life is Beautiful, which racked up 5.7 million admissions in 1997, but producer Pietro Valsecchi believes it will wind up earning more than €40 million.

It's already zoomed last another local blockbuster released last December, Benvenuti al sud (Welcome to the South), a remake of Dany Boon's 2008 French hit Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks).

Only the second film co-written by and starring Zalone following 2009's Cado dale nub, it features the stand-up comic as a security guard who still lives at home and dreams becoming a Carabiniere (an Italo counterpart, perhaps, of Hollywood's Paul Blart?). He's assigned the task of guarding the Madonnina, the statue on the top of the Duomo Cathedral, and falls in love with a beautiful Arab woman (Nabira Akkari), who aims to use him as part of a plot to bomb the Cathedral.

Sections of the Italian media incorrectly reported last week that Che bella giornata had outgrossed Benigni's film but that was based on incomplete box-office data compiled in 1997, when ticket sales were measured for just 70% of the market. Even so, Zalone wasn't ready to claim the box-office crown and he remained modest. Zalone told L'Unita, “I apologize to maestro Benigni. If I am recognized by Hollywood and win three Oscars, then maybe we can say I surpassed him. But not now."

The Hollywood Reporter's review sniffed, “If the plot is worthy of a Pink Panther film, sadly the talent behind (it) is not…. Which is not to say that popular stand-up comic Checco Zalone (real name: Luca Medici) isn't fun to watch in this breezy, by-the-books comedy tailored for the comedian by himself and co-writer Gennaro Nunziante, the film's director. But Che bella giornata is as easy to forget as it is to sit through.

“Foreign audiences won't catch the local humour based on numerous Italian stereotypes, especially between the north and south. But the broader comedy, which pokes fun at Italian ignorance of Arabic culture, can easily resonate with international viewers and is prime remake material.”

The film doesn't have a cinema release date in Australia but I'd be surprised if it's not picked up for DVD and TV.