Starring: Gennaro Pisano, Giovanni Amato, Marilyn Buferd
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Running Time: 80 mins
The Machine That Kills Bad People (La macchina ammazzacattivi) is an Italian film about a lowly photographer who is given the power to make evil-doers disappear from the world, but during a period of chaos in his small town, he soon turns the power on everyone.
This is a really bizarre film. With a fantasy story that feels like some sort of backward spin on the classic Faust tale, it’s a movie that features an interesting look at human nature, combined with a strange and haphazard fantasy that makes for an enjoyable watch, although with a directing style that doesn’t quite fit the genre perfectly, it’s never a particularly exciting or impressive film.
Let’s start on the bright side, with the film’s enjoyably bizarre premise, following a normal man who is unexpectedly given the power to rid his town of ‘bad people’ by taking pictures of them, after having met the village’s patron saint. Of course, the story doesn’t stop there, and as the power goes to his head, it turns out no-one is safe from his judgment, with the definition of ‘evil-doers’ becoming wider and wider.
In that, the film offers an interesting look at responsibiliy and abuse of power, with a man who was judged to be one of the town’s most rational and kindest people even turning into someone just as bad as those he sets his magical machine on, and with a strong lead performance from Gennaro Pisano that straddles the line between responsible ridder of evil and someone who goes a little power-mad, the film at least proves an interesting dramatic watch.
Another positive comes in the form of the movie’s zany secondary characters, as the entire town comes together in chaos when word is received of a large windfall from the central government in Rome. It’s a little reminiscent of how The Simpsons works, with a huge number of local citizens stealing the show with their crazy characteristics, with stand-outs including the mayor, the local police officer, and an American businessman who comes to town, and that brings a good bit of humour to the table throughout.
However, where the film unfortunately falls down for me is in its presentation of what should have been a slightly more light-hearted fantasy story. The biggest problem of all is how the film shows the man’s power being enacted, killing off bad people in a rather strange way that’s often not even that notable when you’re watching.
In tandem with the bizarre premise, I felt that there should have been a little bit more of a song and dance when it came to the scenes in which our main man gets rid of the bad people, but instead, it’s not particularly memorable, taking away from the idea that this power is becoming dangerously abused as the man sets his sights on pretty much everyone in the town.
Roberto Rossellini is right up there as one of the best Italian directors of all time, with classic dramas like Rome, Open City, Journey To Italy and more regularly being listed among the best Italian films of all, however I felt that his style and talents didn’t really convert too well to the fantasy genre.
The film’s philosophical themes are evidence of Rossellini’s work, and that’s where the film works best, in a sphere that the director has good experience in, however, the development of a lighter-hearted fantasy tale alongside that never really comes off, and the movie feels a whole lot less spectacular than it’s intended to be, which makes for somewhat of a disappointing watch, even though it is still enjoyably weird throughout, and that’s why I’m giving The Machine That Kills Bad People a 7.0 overall.