(director/writer: Claudio Giovannesi; screenwriters: novel by Roberto Saviano/Maurizio Braucci; cinematographer: Daniele Ciprì; editor: Giuseppe Trepiccione; music: Andrea Moscianese, Claudio Giovannesi; cast: Francesco Di Napoli (Nicola),Ar Tem (Tyson), Viviana Aprea (Letizia), Alfredo Turitto (Biscottino), Valentina Vannino (Madre di Nicola), Pasquale Marotta (Agostino), Luca Nacarlo (Cristian), Carmine Pizzo (Limone), Ciro Pellecchia (Lollipop), Ciro Vecchione (‘O Russ), Mattia Piano Del Balzo (Briatò), Aniello Arena (Lino Samataro), Roberto Carrano (Caminiello), Adam Jendoubi (Aucelluzzo); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Carlo Degli Esposti, Nicola Serra; Music Box Films; 2019-Italy-in Neapolitan with English subtitles)

A superficial crime drama.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superficial crime drama by the Italian writer-director Claudio Giovannesi (“Ali Blue Eyes”/”Fiore”). Though it’s a work of fiction it’s derived from real street experiences. The film is based on the best seller 2010 novel “The Children’s Parade” by the 2006 “Gomorrah” writer Roberto Saviano (he currently lives under police protection following Mafia threats from before) who also co-wrote the screenplay. It’s a turn-off because of the amateur acting from the lead actor and all the non-professional actors, and that the lackadaisical direction keeps it like a social worker’s report on gangs rather than being emotionally charged like a good thriller should be.

Piranhas is set in Naples. It chronicles the criminal activity of a naïve group of 15-year-old friends led by the inexperienced but cocky Nicola (Francesco Di Napoli). The kid is not too bright, clean-cut and a wearer of designer clothes, thinks of himself as the savior of the Sanità neighborhood (a mob-stronghold area of Naples) where he lives with his mom (Valentina Vannino), who runs a dry-cleaning business and pays protection money, and little brother. The kid goes from dealing marijuana for one local mafia gang to dealing for guns, rifles and automatic weapons with another mafia gang and finally, his teen gang hooks up with the Camorra as armed soldiers for them.

The highlight scene, the only mind-bending one, comes at the beginning: as a bunch of the kid gangs fight at the local mall for territorial ownership” of the big Christmas tree. The confrontation results in it being pulled down and dragged away by Nicoli’s boys as a symbol of power. The gang whoops it up and puts the tree in a bonfire. It reveals the child gangs have lost their innocence and their dreams will soon be fulfilled of becoming professional mafia mobsters, like those they have always known in their neighborhood.

There’s also an undeveloped West Side Story type of romance floated around how the pretty Letizia (Viviana Aprea), from the rival Spanish Quarters neighborhood, becomes the love interest of Nicola.

Though watchable, following a tradition of gangster movies like Little Caesar, the trite mafia story never makes any significant social statements.

Piranhas (La paranza dei bambini, 2018)

REVIEWED ON 8/3/2019       GRADE: C+