Although France is the butt of many jokes, mostly by Americans but also by Brits, as to their military history, Italy also gets a bad reputation, though this is something said by people who go a little deeper into their history but not very deep.
The joke on both countries centers on their pure recent WW2 record: France fell to German advances within 6 weeks. I have always held this to be more a sign of German excellence and luck than French incompetence (or cowardice, as the jokes go), though the unpreparedness of their armed forces had some role to play.
Italy was even worse. When it tried invading France through the Alps, the French held them off. It occupied Albania, which it technically already controlled in all but name, in an attempt to match Hitler’s victory in Norway. And when they invaded Greece from there, the Greeks threw them back and invaded Albania in turn, requiring the Germans to invade Yugoslavia, take it over, then conquer Greece on Italy’s behalf.
Italian colonial forces in Libya tried to invade Egypt and failed dramatically, with the British pursuing them into Libya. Over the course of the conflict in Africa Italian forces generally surrendered in masses of tens of thousands at a time.
There are obvious disadvantages to being an Italian soldier. Mussolini was much less militarily savvy than Hitler was. Both dictators tended to meddle in military planning, but at least Hitler’s gambles worked sometimes. Hitler’s generals also came from the old Prussian officer class, and were experienced, proven, and capable. Mussolini tended to promote purely on ideological loyalty, and lots of Italian generals were really bad at what they did. Italian equipment was also pretty bad. Their tanks couldn’t stand up to anything the British had (and British tanks were never great), and their logistics were worse.
And all in all, Italy is a rather complex political entity. Italians are a bit like the French, in that there is never one pure political power. Mussolini was a dictator, but he was legally below the power of the king. Italians were okay with showing off a little, but I don’t think they liked Mussolini enough to die for him or his ambitions. They seemed like they could also generally see a losing situation and didn’t think it worth the effort to fight it out.
You could argue that they were extremely pragmatic. Under effective leadership, Italians fought well in Eritrea, under Rommel, and in the Soviet Union. But they had any number of other disadvantages such that they never really had a chance against the big powers… and the average soldier knew it. Why waste their lives on it?
But in other conflicts Italians have done very well. In the 1800s conflicts (except Abyssinia), and in the First World War. As always, it’s a more complicated picture when you take the time to look into it.