I’ve been told that “Brat 2”, a sequel to a successful movie, is one of the biggest box office champ in Russian history. The film is a major success and (I’m once again told) it has revitalized the Russian film industry and their stature in the action genre. If this is the case, then all I can say is: The Russians have a long way to go!
The star of our subdued opus is Sergei Bodrov, who plays Danila, a former military man with a knack for getting into trouble. Despite the fact that our lead doesn’t look old enough to have been in the Russian army a few years ago, writer/director Aleksei Balabanov asks us to accept that Danila is, in fact, a lethal killing machine. Okay, I guess I’ll play along. After all, if I can “buy” that Keanu Reeves is a kung fu master, why not Bodrov as the Russian equivalent of Rambo?
The thrust of “Brat 2” (“brat”, I believe, means “brother” in Russia) is that the nationalistic ex-soldier Danila takes up the cause of an ex-compatriot murdered by shady businessmen in cahoots with the Russian mob. The murdered man has a twin brother who is a star hockey player in America, but because of a shady American businessman, the brother has been cheated out of his rich contract. Armed with a disarming appearance and what appears to be a short and very psychotic older brother (Viktor Sukhorukov), Danila sets off for Chicago to collect some payback.
Once in America, writer/director Aleksei Balabanov, by way of his leading man Danila, proves lacking in his understanding of the American landscape, and manages to insult pretty much everyone in America and the country in general. (What’s that all about, “comrade”?) This approach is somewhat understandable, since “Brat 2” is wholly a Russian creation, and as any viewers of the “Rambo” franchise can attest, it’s inevitable that a foreigner’s interpretation of a foreign land will be not only skewed, but also downright cartoonish. Such is the case with “Brat 2”.
Although sold as an action film, “Brat 2” is actually not that, well, exciting. Like the Swedish film “Executive Protection”, the action in “Brat 2” is so subdued and understated that any action fan looking for a jolt will be disappointed. This, despite the presence of a couple of wholesale massacres. How is it possible that in a movie where a main character mows down about a half dozen people in a nightclub’s back room and I never once felt any sense of thrill or excitement? Talk about playing it on the down low.
The direction by Balabanov seems more concern with piling on the notion of “being Russian” than actually bothering with a coherent story. “Brat 2” opens in Moscow, with Danila and his band of ex-soldier buddies trying to get a shady Russian businessman (Sergei Makovetsky) to do the right thing, but only ends up being chased by his murderous goons all over Moscow. But even though the businessman is clearly responsible for the murder of his army buddy, Danila simply loses interest in exacting revenge, and instead heads over to Chicago to take on the equally shady American businessman (Gary Houston).
So let me get this straight: Righting the wrong done to a cheated Russian who our hero has never met takes precedence over righting the cold-blooded murder of the hero’s close buddy? So, according to Balabanov, getting back at that dirty American scumbag for cheating a Russian means more than getting back at that dirty Russian scumbag for killing a Russian. Actually, Danila never gets back at the shady Russian. This is what it means to “be Russian”, da?
“Brat 2” only takes off once the film transplants to its America locales. There, the film is definitely funnier and has a better flow, not to mention some energy. Although the film maintains a steady level of “off-kilter” vibe, the first half, set in Russia, is just not that good. Saying that nothing much happens is an understatement, although that doesn’t quite explain why the second half is so messy and unfocused. All of this leaves me to this question: Are Russians really this uncomfortable around black people? According to “Brat 2”, Russians and black people don’t mix, and when they do, violence results!
I’m not sure if I can tell you what is it about “Brat 2” that has made it such a big sensation in its native land. It’s not the most thrilling movie I’ve ever seen, the action sequences are not entirely competent, and the film as a whole has the production values of a Straight-to-Video action B-movie. The screenplay, along with leading man Sergei Bodrov, seems like they’re just going through the motions of making a movie.
In closing, I’m still waiting for a decent action movie from Russia.
Aleksei Balabanov (director) / Aleksei Balabanov (screenplay)
CAST: Sergei Bodrov Jr. …. Danila
Viktor Sukhorukov …. Viktor
Alexander Diachenko …. Kostya/Mitya
Sergei Makovetsky …. Belkin