Italy now has its own movie superhero, a lonely, porn-and-yogurt-addicted mob goon who learns the value of being a force for good in “They Call Me Jeeg,” Gabriele Mainetti’s fitfully entertaining comics-inspired fare. After an underwater encounter in the Tiber River with toxic chemicals, brooding enforcer Enzo (Claudio Santamaria) discovers he can fall from nine stories unharmed, toss humans like sacks of garbage, and pull ATMs out of walls.
Jealous of this mysterious figure’s fame, but unaware it’s a member of his own squad, is stringy-haired Gypsy (a deliciously pinwheel-eyed Luca Marinelli), an ex-reality show contestant turned psychotic Camorra underboss. Only the sexy, traumatized woman-child Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli) — a colleague’s daughter whom Enzo is both attracted to and protective of — knows of his superpowers. She sees in him the manifestation of a virtuous robot hero in her beloved anime.
There’s a traditional good versus evil arc to this narrative, leading to a showdown with a ticking bomb, but the movie also threads in details of mafia-generated social unrest, and the conditions in modern Italy that create misanthropic, ripe-for-transformation figures like Enzo.
Mainetti’s direction has a crisp pulp sensibility, and a way with action. He also milks the contrast between stoic Enzo and flamboyant Gypsy for all its worth. Though not the most sure-footed of superhero entries, as an offbeat perspective on the genre, “They Call Me Jeeg” merits an enthusiast’s look.
‘They Call Me Jeeg’
In Italian with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollwyood