Get out your thesaurus.
Incoherent, pretentious, redundant, self-contradictory. Atonal, elliptical, smug, pious, overly long, obscure and badly edited. Branded–shot and taking place in the “new” Moscow–is essentially a Russian movie (all the tech credits carry Russian/Eastern European names, nearly a hundred of them), even though it’s financed “internationally” (mostly the U.S. and Germany, we’re told), cast with a handful of American and Brit actors and “written and directed” by a duo with Anglicized names.
The thing is so inept that it smacks of a money-laundering scheme: getting frozen Russkie money out of the country by financing and then distributing a movie (of sorts). This is good-natured speculation–not accusation–on my part.
Or maybe, à la The Producers, it’s a movie designed to lose money.
This multi-genre mash-up (satire? comedy? dystopia? love story? prophecy?) has a whim of iron–and far too many ironies in the fire. As an ill-fated audience member, you can sit there (in a near-empty theater) waiting for the movie’s pieces to come together in some sort of narrative thrust. Bring something to read, Bunky.
Not that there aren’t ideas strewn about like uncut diamonds in a huge pile of manure. But this technically adept movie is simply overcome by shit. Lots of it.
We now offer up a synopsis of sorts. A Brit ad man is hired by an American entrepreneur (Jeffrey Tambor) who wishes to start up a Russian-American ad agency bankrolled by a sinister tycoon (the great Max von Sydow), a man who has a revolutionary idea to control minds by Extreme Advertising. He wants to make fat beautiful, and thin no longer in, and does. Warning: this synopsis is more coherent than the movie.
Our ad man falls for his boss’s daughter (Leelee Sobieski). All does not go well after our hero begins to hallucinate big-time, seeing giant creatures growing out of people’s bodies. These mind blobs prove to be real and capable of producing giant monsters with bad tempers. All of the above takes forever to manifest, and there are several plot points going nowhere in between the beginning and end of this conceit.
Slow and clunky is recognizable as Russian style, but boy, things don’t exactly whiz by in this movie. We are called upon to recall that our hero was struck by lightning when he was a kid, giving him mental quirks. Would you care to hazard a guess whether he is again struck by lightning toward the end? It is only then that we discover–caution, plot-point ahead–that our movie is being narrated by a star constellation shaped like a cow.
As for the third-act complication: our hero, separated from his new wife, becomes a cowherd, until one of his herd turns magically red and is then sacrificed (beheaded and burned), so that a certain mystic experience (don’t ask) can de-alienate the cowherd allowing him to then return to a new Moscow. Where fat is the new thin. P.S.: I have counted and omitted four subplots that stray off into nowhere.
The movie ends as it began: with the star-pattern cow saying “moo-oo” to us, to which we say “boo-oo” to an ersatz movie too Russian for words.