DUMB & DUMBER meets PULP FICTION (or is it RESERVOIR DOGS?) in this cartoonishly violent tale of Russian mob enforcers back in the free-wheelin’ ‘90s. Helmer/writer Aleksey Balabanov hardly bothers to hide the Quentin Tarantino touches (or, if you prefer, early Guy Ritchie) as he follows a couple of comically awful Mutt & Jeff henchmen who keep blowing their latest assignment for The Boss, leaving them no option other than blowing away a series of rival thugs. The acting & situations in the first act are as coarsely delivered as a TeleMundo sit-com, but you start to notice sly bits showing up, like a long, static three-shot for a trio of lowbrow wiseguys who might be The Moscovy Three Stooges. Could there be method in the general anarchy? The main storyline follows a couple of briefcases: one of cash, one of heroin. When the money is successfully delivered, but the drugs are stolen, Mr. Boss sends his boys back to find the goods . . . or else. None of the players seem aware that the whole mix-up isn’t simple coincidence, but a grand plan, run by a police detective who’s calling in favors, hoping to clean up half his crime log as various thugs start bumping each other off. By the time the main action kicks into gruesome gear, we’ve either adjusted to the level of broad caricature or the cast have toned things down enough for us to tune in. (And a gaggle of plot twists with some of the gamesmanship of an Elmore Leonard novel also helps.) Those who hang in will be rewarded with a classic blissed-out goof-ball scene involving a punk doctor-in-training, called in after a messy game of ‘Dead Man’s Bluff’ (Russian Roulette). He thoughtfully consults his Basic Anatomy textbook before performing a painful bit of on-site emergency treatment. You have to wonder if Balabanov noticed how much this realistically amoral guy did to boost our sense of involvement?*
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: *We may never know since Balabanov died May 18th of this year, only 54. From this film, he seems to have been a wildly uneven/wildly exciting talent. A handful of his 16 films are available Stateside and surely worth seeking out.