Sebastian Maniscalco as Sebastian and Robert De Niro as Salvo...

Sebastian Maniscalco as Sebastian and Robert De Niro as Salvo in Lionsgate's "About My Father." Credit: Lionsgate/Dan Anderson

PLOT Two families from different cultures come together for a summer getaway.

CAST Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb

RATED PG-13 (adult humor)


WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE Maniscalco’s semi-autobiographical comedy aims for riotous but lands at mildly amusing.

Sebastian Maniscalco has built his stand-up career on a beloved archetype: the old-school Italian American. He comes by it honestly: His father, a hairdresser, immigrated from Sicily in 1960, and his mother, a secretary, has roots there as well. A typical Maniscalco routine combines self-mocking jokes, observations that women are from Venus and working-class bafflement at progressive politics. His humor is relatable, rarely mean-spirited and mostly safe.

That’s what you’ll get in his new feature film, “About My Father,” as well. Inspired by his life as an immigrant’s kid, it features Maniscalco as a version of himself — not a comedian, a la “Seinfeld,” but a hotel manager — and Robert De Niro as his widowed father, Salvo. It’s a culture-clash comedy in which Sebastian must introduce his salt-of-the-earth pop to the impossibly rich family of his artist girlfriend, Ellie Collins (Leslie Bibb), before proposing marriage. Ellie calms Sebastian’s nerves by assuring him their July Fourth get-together won’t be “an Italian version of ‘Get Out.’”

Directed by Laura Terruso (“Hello, My Name Is Doris”) and written by Maniscalco and Austen Earl, “About My Father” is transparently formulaic and contrived, drawing its humor from inexplicable behavior and unlikely mishaps rather than real human interaction. We ought to be squirming in sympathy with the lowborn Maniscalcos as they meet the Mayflower-connected Collinses. Instead, we’re just watching them all bumble around a Virginia country club for 89 minutes.

One problem is that everything in this story falls into place too neatly. Ellie’s parents are Bill Collins (the great David Rasche), a hotel magnate — how convenient for Sebastian! -- and Tigger Collins (Kim Cattrall), a fire-breathing senator. But they aren’t intimidating, snooty or judgmental; they’re actually quite lovely. Even Ellie’s glad-handing brother, Lucky (Anders Holm), is a basically benevolent son of privilege. Youngest brother Doug (Brett Dier) is the family eight ball, a New Age healer who cowers from negative energy (though there isn’t much of it). The Mansicalcos are welcomed warmly into the Collins fold. So much for conflict.

Embarrassment comes in the form of swim shorts that drop on their own, haircuts that go awry and panic attacks that are never explained. De Niro’s Salvo unleashes tirades in Italian and uses coarse slang, but that doesn’t make the character come alive. Maniscalco holds his own in their scenes together (they previously shared screen time in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”), though he's mostly just replicating his stand-up persona.

In the end, “About My Father” is the story of “two different brands of immigrant families,” as Sebastian puts it. That’s a commendable and generous thought, but it doesn’t exactly make for gut-busting comedy.

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