Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sitcom Détente: Exporting Raymond

Philip Rosenthal might be a sad sack, but he is a rich sad sack. The creator and executive producer of Everyone Loves Raymond thought the appeal of his sitcom was so universal, he could easily transplant it to Russia. Naturally, the process turned out to be a little trickier than he anticipates when he arrives with a suitcase full of corny scripts and a film crew. Rosenthal documents the resulting creative differences in Exporting Raymond (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Frankly, the American Raymond is so run-of-the-mill, it hardly seems worth adapting. Consisting of a mopey loser, his goonie brother, impatient wife, and grouchy parents, it was hardly staggering in its originality. In a way, Rosenthal might agree. Over and over, he stresses the show’s universality as the key to its success. However, the Russians do not seem to get it.

The network argues the Russian people will never accept such meek, hen-pecked protagonist as Raymond, redubbed Kostya. The glamorous costume coordinator is particularly resistant to Rosenthal’s demands for a realistic wardrobe for his wife. Casting is also a nightmare, exacerbated by network interference. Like Napoleon, it appears Rosenthal will be forced to retreat from Moscow in ignoble defeat.

Exporting would be a good value-added DVD extra, but as a stand-alone documentary, it is a bit thin. Easily the most interesting figure in the film is the ambiguously connected bodyguard, who eventually gets bored with Rosenthal’s schtick (we suspect). While he has a few funny moments, Rosenthal is hardly a fount of charisma. Most of the time, he is really just a pill. He certainly shows no interest in Russian culture or history. As a result, his documentary sojourn will hold little interest for Russophiles.

Perhaps fittingly, Exporting is more of an extended sitcom episode than a documentary. It is harmless, but leaves little lasting impression. Maybe you just had to be there. Those already nostalgic for the Raymond sitcom (for whatever reason) can check it out when it opens this Friday (4/29) in New York at the Angelika Film Center and AMC Lincoln Square.