The Bread, My Sweet: A Big Bat Scott Baio Snuff Movie

THE FIRST STARTLING thing about The Bread, My Sweet (which opens Friday, July 18, at the Metro) is how handsome its protagonist, Scott Baio, has become. Time has baked Jodie Foster's Pillsbury Doughboy-like Bugsy Malone co-star into an imperially slim matinee idol. Alas, half-baked: For 21 years, his career has been in free fall. Did you catch him in Baby Geniuses II: Super Babies? Instead of Oscars, he gets an award from something called the Halfway to Hollywood Film Festival. And now, over halfway to hell, when he finally lands a hit, it's The Bread, My Sweet, the most shockingly incompetent film in memory. If you want to witness clumsier camera handling, clunkier editing, more generic characters, dimmer story sense, and dumber dialogue, you'll be forced to resort to porn. But it's a smash where it was filmed: Pittsburghers have queued up all year to bask in Melissa Martin's schmaltzy ode to the Strip District, a wonderful neighborhood graced with Italian bakeries so tasty one bite really could make you move there. Baio is Dominic Pyzola, a Porsche-propelled layoff specialist who quits to help his brother Eddie (excruciatingly talent-free Billy Mott) and the allegedly developmentally disabled, actually dramaturgically disabled gentle giant Pino (Shuler Hensley) cut biscotti. Living above the bakery is Bella (Rosemary Prinz), who's literally dying, and figuratively dying to see her daughter Lucca (Kristin Minter of ER) come back from the Peace Corps and marry. She squabbles improbably with her husband Massimo (John Seitz), the ghastliest sentimental ethnic caricature imaginable. When Dom discovers Bella's illness, he contrives to get Lucca home and proposes that they stage a wedding for Bella's benefit. "It's like my whole life has been leading up to this one perfect merger," he says by way of proposal. It's a creepy plan, when you think about it: Let's hoax the old bat before she croaks! This could be called My Big Ghoulishly Fraudulent Italian Wedding. Baio isn't bad, considering that his every line is more putrid than sputum. And Prinz, who created M'lynn in Steel Magnolias, makes decrepitude adorable. Her face is sweeter than biscotti, but her character is damp, with no crunch. The real-life woman she's based on did say stuff like "I think it's better you drink a cup coffee," but "I think it's better you . . . " clanks as a recurrent catchphrase here. Despite Prinz's appeal, one yearns for her character's merciful death. Go back and watch the template for movies like this, Moonstruck, then watch its descendants: My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Bend It Like Beckham, and The Bread, My Sweet. You'll see that the art of screenwriting is dying before our eyes.

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