Moscow Chill (2007)
Today we have a Russian action movie, staring a D-level American actor and a bunch of unknown-to-me Rooskies, all trying hard to overcome what seems to have been a script written by a blind homeless man, and a shooting schedule cut short by what surely was a major production budgetary shortfall (the check bounced). This is normally where I'd soften all that by saying..."But they still made a pretty good movie...". But, truth is, Moscow Chill is boring and slow and seems half-completed. I know some of you might disagree (assuming you are one of the 15 people who have actually seen this movie), but it chewed rabbit balls for me.
It's the cover art's fault, really, just look at it up there. I should have known better than to be sucked in by the gritty image of a loner stoner in a hoodie, I should be smarter than that by now after doing this for nearly a decade. And yet, there I was, entranced, waiting all movie long for something entertaining to happen to match that image's potential. Before I knew it the movie was over and I was still waiting. I can truthfully say that I've never been teased this bad since Rachel Carson accidentally flashed me in ninth grade, strung along by a DVD cover that promised so much but then utterly failed to deliver anything even remotely as good. Nothing happened in this movie, it was just unresolved drama, nowhere leads, dead-end plotlines, all frustratingly tapering off into...meh-ness. So, too, Rachel Carson never even knew my name.
Let's get it done...
As our film opens, we meet our protagonist Ray, computer hacker genius guy with a scruffy Kurt Cobain haircut, and wearer of hoodies and Circle Jerks t-shirts. He's the kind of guy who has incredible skills but no direction in life, the ultimate slacker content to skate through life. He has this Robin Hood complex, and goes around the city making money shoot out of ATMs so poor people can scoop it up, so we are supposed to somehow root for him (ok, movie).
Ray gets caught eventually and goes to jail for six months, not that that seems to elicit any reaction out of him. Ray seems inordinately blah all the time, never really emotional, never really excited, just sorta...cardboard. The actor, some guy named Norman Reedus from Florida who I've never heard of before, is clearly going for an "understated" performance, but he misses low and ends up making us hate Ray with a passion (for his very lack of any passion).
He even looks like a pretentious dick in his mugshot.
He's busted out of jail by "Dolphin", a tall, lanky, bald gangster with the Russian Mafia. Dolphin uses a mix of disinformation, bribery and brute force to finagle his way into Ray's cell and squirrel him out to a waiting car. Thankfully for us, Dolphin sticks around for almost the rest of the movie, and, as time passes, it's obvious that he'll be the most interesting, if not the most exactly compelling, character we will meet. He also looks a bit like Lex Luthor from Smallville.
Ray is taken to Moscow on a private Antonov jet (the Mafia has $ash to burn) and the rest of this movie is set in Russia. We don't see much of Moscow, really, none of the interesting parts, just a few houses and business, mostly interior shots. It's hard not to notice that every single character is smoking in every single scene. Ray, for example, has a cig between his lips probably 85% of the time he's on-screen. Many shots, especially tight group shots, are so clouded with smoke that the edges of the frame get all hazy.
He's always got one behind his ear as a reserve.
Ray is driven to a Moscow jail to meet the Crime Boss, who is in for racketeering and for pissing off the government by being too rich. Through bribes and influence, though, the Crime Boss essentially runs the jail. He wants Ray to steal 40 million bucks from another gangster with his computer hacking skill. Why fly Ray all the way from the US for this? Is he really the best hacker ever? Because nothing we've seen so far suggests that. And why a big deal over 40 million, didn't he just say he was already the one of the five richest people in the country? Ray agrees to the job, though, he's currently unemployed.
The Crime Boss.
Ray now meets Vasya, a well-dressed gangster who is running the day-to-day business while the Crime Boss is in jail. Vasya's given just enough character development to seem potentially interesting, but never enough to want you to learn more. He's always on the phone, but those calls never amount to anything. He's overtly religious, even though he's a crook, but that dichotomy never results in any sort of conflict. He's basically just, you know, there.
Vasya does love suits.
Ray is given a tacky suit coat and taken to a party attended by some bigwigs of the Russian Mafia. Not much is said, less done, and the only reason I didn't fall asleep during this scene was all the hot women walking around in their underwear. After the first size-zero model sauntered by in a thong and push-up, I fully expected a cascade of gratuitous T&A, but absolutely nothing came of it. Just vacuous, pretty women in their frilly underwear, doing nothing more than walking by the camera at irregular intervals. I can see that on network TV on any given weekday.
Hot girl (yawn).
Ray eventually meets Maya, a young Russian woman who looks like an older Selena Gomez or a slightly pudgier Jessica Biel, and is instantly smitten with her (though, initially it's just because she's semi-fluent in English). She's pretty enough, but bland and forgettable (which I'm sure is not what the actress was going for). They talk a bit, they drink a lot, and they end up in bed, though the camera fades away before anything happens. The actress probably had a no-nudity clause or something, which is fine, I still have the memories of Rachel Carson's left boob to keep me warm on these cold winter nights.
You'd expect the "Rules of Movie Love" to kick in and this one-night-stand to instantly progress into a more meaningful relationship arc, but it doesn't move that fast. Maya actually disappears from the movie for the next 30 minutes with virtually no explanation where she went or why she went there. I can't even say I miss her.
Picnic, Russian style.
The computer hacking scenes are mostly just Ray sitting on a crappy futon tapping away at his keyboard. The few shots of the screen show little more than scrolling tables of numbers and blinking cursors. Nothing exciting, no Matrix-style hacking and slashing through security programs or anything. I had a more exciting time on the internet yesterday looking up pictures of Ann Curry.
Where are the sentinels?!?
Ray and the hoods go into the countryside to Vasya's grandmother's village, Vasya is there to dedicate a new bell to her church. Along the way they stop and see an old retired gangster in a hospital and they end up shooting him for no good reason. Ray is quite upset, initially, but his Oscar-worthy emotional turmoil peters out after two minutes and nothing much is every said about it again. This entire movie seems to be a stitched-together series of unconnected scenes with little continuity to tie them together. Stuff happens in one scene, but is totally forgotten or ignored by the next scene, and so on and so on.
Chatting with grandma.
So the 40mil is found and swiped from the bank. The job over, Ray is now a man without a country, being wanted in America and stuck in Russia. So he pretty much just sits around smoking and drinking and playing poker with the Mafia boys. People come and go, words are said, money changes hands, bawdy jokes are told in Russian, but nothing happens of any interest whatsoever to further the story.
Boys will be boys.
Ray does get off the couch long enough to go look for Maya, with the help of his new BFF Dolphin (they make an odd couple but they do share a love of Kazakh tobacco and rotgut alcohol). It turns out that Dolphin is the absent, dead-beat father of Maya's baby and he still sorta loves her, but there's no real drama with this love triangle, no resolution, no redemption, no exploration, nothing in the end.
Real men don't share feelings.
They go to meet Maya's reclusive father, an ex-KGB computer spy, now retired and working in a Moscow junkyard. He uses Ray's laptop to show how he used to hack into CIA spy satellites with great skill (who knew it was as easy as ten keystrokes?). I expected all movie for this set-up to come in handy, for him to use this deus amachina in a later, third-act action scene, but he never did. The father actually spends the rest of movie just hanging around in the background, not doing anything more than picking at his beard and sipping vodka.
He's got crazyhair.
You know, the best thing about movie is the soundtrack. As with most movies made in the MTV Generation, it's one different song snippet after the other, always playing in the background, always there. It's all original Russian underground/alternative stuff, mostly punk and ska, which I hear is still quite popular in Russia. I'll admit to being a sucker for old school ska bands from the early '90s, and my CD collection is still heavy with Aquabats and Goldfinger albums (no Sublime, they sold out...).
Ray is droppin' the beats.
Anyway, Maya eventually returns, with no explanation of where she was for the last third of the film (probably moonlight-acting in some much better movie). She and Ray are now (poof!) in a steady relationship after just one drunken night together a month ago, which is not surprising. Dolphin is here, but he's ok with everything, again, they probably should have made something more out of that love triangle. It was such an easy set-up for some real emotional conflict, but they just let it pass by in favor of more smoking and drinking and cussing in Russian.
Ray, Dolphin and Vasya go to see a corrupt Army Colonel who is also a black market arms merchant who looks like George C. Scott after a few hundred vodka benders. The Colonel wants to sell off his regiment's entire stock of tanks and assault weapons to whatever terrorist organization has enough cash (that sort of thing actually happened/happens in Russia, seriously). Ray is annoyed and frightened of the consequences, but only until the scene break, and then he's ok with it (I fucking hate this movie).
The Colonel does give them a free ride on a BTR, that's pretty cool.
Because he's psycho like that, the Colonel gets drunk and shoots Dolphin dead, thus removing the only even slightly interesting character this movie had. I almost turned it off at this point, it was a surprisingly deflating moment that I really had to work through to keep going.
Dolphins should be an endangered species.
Fearing for his own life, Ray shoots the Colonel in turn, but this only leads to him being arrested (oh so slowly and with no undue effort). Later Ray is visited politely by a federal agent who asks him nicely if he would work for the government, you know, if he wants to, if he doesn't have anything else going on today. But it doesn't matter anyway, because nothing comes of this offer, it's just a tease to get you not to turn the channel.
Back behind bars.
The Crime Boss gets Ray out of jail with a hefty bribe and tells him to go home. But then he tries to kill him off for some unknown reason (huh?). Ray goes on the run now, picking up Maya and her dad and son along the way. He has a few encounters with the Russian Mafia, dodging hitmen sent to kill him off, but they are unsurprisingly dull. A 10-second gun battle and then quite possibly the lamest, tamest, sleepiest car chase ever put to celluloid are all we get. I've seen more action on Antiques Roadshow when the Keno brothers squabble about Quaker furniture.
They all end up back in that little country village from before, at Vasya's grandmother's house. Nothing interesting happens here, trust me, but by this point in the movie I'd be shocked if anything did. Vasya shows up with a truck full of pilfered money, but he then runs off with it without much explanation. Yawn.
Vasya comes and goes, why can't I?
The movie ends with Ray and Maya and her family just driving away to parts unknown, penniless, but supposedly happy. Why Ray didn't chase after the money is unknown. Why Vasya abandoned his grandmother so callously is unknown. Why Maya has hitched her wagon to a broke American who's wanted by the Russian Mafia is unknown. Why I sat through this entire movie is unknown. Why Ann Curry won't return my phone calls is also unknown, but it probably has something to do with the restraining order.
Maya's kid has a new daddy now (aww...).
Written in February 2011 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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