Starring: Pyotor Fyodorov, Vladimir Mashkov, Martin Wuttke, Yuliya Khlynina, Pavel Tabakov
Rated R for Strong Violence and Some Sexuality/Nudity
Dueling seems like a total waste of time and life. Even from the point of view of a Southern gentleman before the Civil War, the idea of having a gunfight to the death over the concept of honor reeks of stupidity and hypocrisy. I mean, what's the point of risking your life, or killing someone, for the sake of your ego? That's not honor. That's narcissism.
Apparently, the Confederates weren't the only ones who were fond of these sorts of duels. The Russians loved them too. Of course, if you were too cowardly, you could have someone go in your place for a hefty fee. One such person is Yakovlev (Fyodorov), a man with a bad past. Although he always wins, his behavior is akin to that of someone with a death wish. What he doesn't know is that someone is using him to ice his enemies, and he is going to have to play his cards right to stay alive and restore his family's name.
The problem with this film (apart from being unbearably boring) is that it likes its characters and expects us to like them too. But that's impossible. In addition to being one-dimensional, dull, and filled with more angst than all the "Twilight" movies combined, they're also high-strung lunatics who will risk their lives over the mildest insult. Seriously, I've heard middle schoolers make more cutting remarks with less fuss. Any filmmaker with half a brain would have realized that the only way to make this movie work would be to view the characters with contempt. Asking the audience to sympathize with a bunch of bored, overly sensitive and self-centered aristocrats with a serious case of bloodlust is a recipe for failure. And while I didn't exactly like "American Psycho" or "Very Bad Things," the respective filmmakers at least had the good sense to treat the characters right: introduce them as vile pigs and have the audience watch them get their just rewards.
The less said about the acting, the better. Everyone in this movie takes this story deadly seriously (no pun intended). While this is totally wrong for the film, it does end with the result of some scenes being unintentionally funny. Especially the sex scene between the drunk, bitter hero and the wimpy idiot of a princess. This has to be the most balls-out awkward sex scene in many a year. In addition to being not in the least bit erotic or passionate, it's so clumsily done that I was left wondering if either Yakovlev was having second thoughts or had just lost his virginity. Mention must be made of the fact that some of the actors bear a strikingly similar appearance to Hollywood stars. For example, Pyotor Fyodorov looks like the son of Colin Farrell and Robert Sean Leonard, Vladimir Mashkov looks like James Purefoy after being hit by a cement truck, and Yulia Khlynina looks like a very fraile Christina Ricci.
The real question is why Columbia would pony up the dough to distribute this movie. What moron thought they could actually make any money off of this disaster? It's in Russian with no big stars, which eliminates the multiplex crowd and it's too violent and badly made for the art-house crowd, and it's a total bore, which is a sign to "stay away" for everyone else. Boggles the mind.
It's a pity that this takes place in 1860's Russia. Lisa Lampanelli would have had a field day with this crowd. As ill-fitting as it would be, an appearance from her could only have helped this misbegotten "Gladiator"-lite wannabe.