Johnny Stecchino is an Italian comedy film starring Roberto Benigni as the protagonist and director. This film is one of Benigni's many collaborations with co-star and wife, Nicoletta Braschi. During its release in 1991, it was the highest-grossing film in Italy.
This film follows the life of Dante, a quirky school bus driver (Benigni) for students with Down syndrome, who bears a striking resemblance to Johnny Stecchino, an Italian mafioso who is wanted by Sicilian mobsters for treason and murder. The film's plot begins to unravel when Dante meets Maria, the wife of Stecchino, who begins her plan into tricking mobsters to kill Dante thinking he is Stecchino. The film takes several unexpected twists when Maria begins to fall for Dante, and it becomes clear that Dante cannot possibly be the cold blooded killer, Johnny Stecchino.
The U.S. version released in theaters and on VHS is about 20 minutes shorter that the full Italian version. It trims several conversations including the final scene with Lillo sniffing cocaine.
After unsuccessfully hitting on his co-worker and other women at a soiree, Dante (Roberto Benigni) meets Maria after she nearly runs him over with her car. Maria is taken aback by Dante's striking resemblance to her husband Johnny Stecchino, an Italian mobster wanted by the Sicilian Mafia for killing head mobster Cozzamara's wife and despised by the locals of Palermo for treason.
During the day, Dante works in Cesena as a bus driver for students with down syndrome, defrauds the government into receiving disability payments for a faked disability, and steals bananas from greengrocers. Dante's best friend is Lillo, a student with down syndrome and diabetes, who he has to constantly deter from eating sweets.
Dante runs into Maria again, this time near his apartment, who unbeknownst to him, has tracked him down in a plan to turn him over to the Sicilian mafia so they can kill Dante, thinking that he is Stecchino. Maria begins to make Dante's appearance more identical to Stecchino, by dressing him in a similar suit and tie, placing a faux mole on his face and convincing him to have a toothpick in his mouth at all time ('stecchino' is the Italian word for toothpick). Maria then begins to call him 'Johnny' or Johnny Stecchino. She later invites Dante to join her in her residence in Palermo where she will begin to plan his murder so she and the real Johnny Stecchino can escape to South America.
Upon arriving at the train station, Dante meets Maria's 'uncle', a cocaine addict who convinces Dante into believing the drug is a cure for diabetes. While attempting to steal a banana from local greengrocer Nicola Travaglia, Dante gets spotted and confused for Stecchino by mobsters, who begin to shoot at him as he attempts to steal a banana. He manages to dodge a hailstorm of bullets and quickly runs to the police station where he relates his understanding of the incident to the police chief of having stolen a banana and thinking the greengrocer in turn had security guards attempt to shoot him for theft. The chief, bewildered by the story, goes along with the story and informs him that he has indeed committed a serious crime but by confessing and turning in the banana as evidence, he will be forgiven for his offense. After leaving the police station, he runs into Judge Cataratta who mistakens Dante for Stecchino and questions his motives in confessing to the police and turning over any evidence. Cataratta advises him to forcefully take back his evidence and demand that the chief prints his story on the front page of newspapers denouncing his confession to the police. Maria finds Dante and returns him to her residence immediately, though surprised to find him strolling through the streets unharmed. Stecchino's belief that Dante bears no resemblance to him is only reinforced upon hearing that Dante spent the morning in Palermo going unnoticed by locals.
As a final attempt to determine whether the public will mistake him for Stecchino, Maria takes Dante to an opera. Upon arriving at the opera house, Dante sees fruit sold at a concession stand. The vendor says he can simply take a banana, but Dante tries to pay, fearful of the earlier uproar. While waiting for the show to commence, the crowd immediately interrupts the show and begins to jeer Dante, thinking he is Stecchino, which Dante confuses as a public reprimand for not paying for the banana. When the crowd begins to shame Maria as an accomplice, Dante shouts down all the hecklers to respect her honor. Dante is escorted by the police to a private party where he meets a politician, an accomplice of Stecchino, who informs will protect him if they keep their meeting a secret. As a gift, he gives Dante a bag of cocaine. Maria meets up with Dante and both retreat back to her residence. The next day, Maria meets Cozzamara to plan the assassination of Johnny Stecchino.
On the day of the planned hit, Maria learns of Stecchino's plan to kill her 'uncle' after Dante has been killed, upsetting news to Maria. Maria drops off Dante at a barbershop owned by Cozzamara. Cozzamara's men begin to suspect Dante is not Stecchino when they notice a faux facial mole, and they ask him about his mother, to which Dante replies "she is okay" a question which would have upset Stecchino (his mother is deceased and he gets very angry when someone discusses her). Maria ends up setting up Stecchino by kissing him at a gas station, an act which he despises, and he in turn goes to use the men's room to wash his face. While using one of the urinals, several armed Sicilian mobsters come out of the stalls to seal his doom. Stecchino realizes Maria's plot and reluctantly accepts his fate, seeing it as a chance to end his miserable life. Meanwhile, the other mobsters are laughing uproariously at Dante's jokes and proceed to sing a song that had earlier been sung by the student on Dante's school bus.
Maria drives Dante back to his apartment, now referring to his proper name of Dante, and telling him she'll be back to see him someday. Maria walks away a free woman and satisfied that she has done the right thing. Dante meets with Lillo outside of his apartment, relating to him his time in Palermo, and of the experience as wacky customs of the locals. The film ends with Lillo running rampantly after sniffing a bag of cocaine, Dante's "gift" to Lillo, which he has been convinced is proper medicine for diabetes.Roberto Benigni: Dante / Johnny Stecchino
Nicoletta Braschi: Maria
Paolo Bonacelli: the lawyer / the "uncle"
Franco Volpi: minister
Ivano Marescotti: Dr. Randazzo
Turi Scalia: Judge Bernardino Cataratta
Ignazio Pappalardo: Cozzamara
Loredana Romito: Gianna
Tony Sperandeo: mafioso
Salvatore Borghese: Ignazio