Thursday, October 23, 2014

Viktor: Depardieu: Art Thief, Action Hero, Friend of Putin

Perhaps for his next action picture, Gérard Depardieu could team up with fellow friend-of-Putin Steven Seagal to fight for lies, injustice, and the Neo-Soviet way. Best of all, he would not pay any French taxes on his earnings. Another strange chapter in the Depardieu saga opens with Philippe Martinez’s bizarrely watchable Russian payback thriller, Viktor (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

After doing a seven year stretch in his native France, expatriate art thief Viktor Lambert has returned to Russian to get to the bottom of his son Jeremy’s murder. Plutova, a hot Russian copper, immediately puts him on notice not to try any gangster stuff. She also requests his “assistance” tracking down a still missing masterwork heisted from the modern art museum. Of course, Lambert has different ideas.

With the help of his old art thief-choreographer crony Souliman, Lambert figures out his son was killed by an elite gang of gem smugglers, in about fifteen minutes of highly motivated asking-around. However, before he can go on the offensive, Lambert will need a place to stash his son’s pregnant girlfriend. Fortunately, his old flame Alexandra Ivanov has a country home and a couple of loyal retainers to spare. There will also be a day trip to Chechnya, where Jeremy Lambert is inexplicably buried.

Granted, Martinez rather forthrightly presents the gangsterism running rampant in Putin’s Russia, but watching Depardieu stomp through the streets of Moscow just makes the head spin. Wisely, most of his action scenes have him hunkered down behind the wheel of a speeding car or trading gun shots from a fixed cover position. At least we cannot hear him audibly wheeze, like in Chabrol’s Inspector Bellamy.

Regardless, nobody should ever doubt Elizabeth Hurley’s acting chops ever again, because as the sultry Ivanov, she never busts up laughing during her romantic afterglow scenes with Depardieu. In fact, she brings some spark and presence to the proceedings. Likewise, Eli Danker’s Souliman is hardly shy when it comes to fretfully chewing the scenery and Evgeniya Akhremenko is appealingly cool and severe as Plutova. Unfortunately, the villains are a rather dull, forgettable lot.

Technically, Viktor is perfectly presentable, sporting a suitably noir sheen thanks to cinematographer Jean-François Hensgens (whose credits include the super-charged District 13: Ultimatum). Still, it is awfully hard to get one’s head around Depardieu, the action hero, in Chechnya. Recommended for members of the U.S.-Putin Friendship Society, Viktor opens tomorrow (10/24) in New York at the Cinema Village.