Russian Doll

A detective, mourning the loss of her wife, attempts to solve a kidnapping and murder plot after a note is discovered.

I want to see a good, female-driven detective story. Sadly, Russian Doll is not that. Starring real-life personal trainer Melanie Brockmann Gaffney, this quasi-thriller seems to go through the good mystery playbook and decide to do the exact opposite of everything that would make this a watchable puzzler.

Independent detective Viola (Gaffney) is mourning the loss of her wife and burying herself in the work of solving crimes. The most recent incident centers around a theatre troupe that is performing a play called Russian Doll. You see, a woman was abducted after discovering a letter that indicated plans to murder one of the cast members of the titular stage show. Mid-call to 911, the woman is taken away and thrown into a pine box by her assailant until more suitable arrangements can be made.

“…abducted after discovering a letter that indicated plans to murder…”

As indicated by the fragments of conversation that were retrieved, Viola and her work partner EJ (Sarah Hollis) know the killing will happen on opening night of the new play. Yet they have no idea who will get it, much less who will be doing it.

What could have been a serviceable thriller ends up becoming a heavy-handed bit of cinema. Writer-director Gaffney is terribly afraid of assuming the audience is smart enough to keep up. Instead of a nuanced yarn of mystery, we have our lead lady voicing over every major development.

There is a clunky subplot involving Viola’s deceased spouse, that does nothing but offer our protagonist a backstory that lends nothing to the present. Playing the grieving tough gal, she recounts her loss to a new friend by saying, I shit you not, “It took me months to get over it.”  There are other lines just like that that are genuinely laughable. Not that the delivery that is doing the script no favors.

“…genuinely laughable…”

I will admit that there is one small bright spot in the cast with Vanessa Dunleavy. Her performance outshines all others with a particular believability as the director of the imperiled play. Wobbling around the theatre and speaking to her cast with a lilting southern drawl, she plays to the sympathies and delivers a performance that is way too short on screen time.

Alas, Russian Doll yields no surprises within. Unlike the metaphorical title, there are no hidden layers, no depth, no revelations. Instead, Russian Doll is a simplistic mystery drama that does little more than giving the audience ample time to guess the answer to the whodunnit while literally explaining revelations in voiceover. Yes. Voiceover.

Obviously a vanity project, Russian Doll is a sad waste of time.

Russian Doll (2018) Directed by Ed Gaffney. Written by Ed Gaffney. Starring Melanie Brockmann Gaffney, Kristine Sutherland, Sarah Hollis, Marem Hassler, and Jason T. Gaffney

Russian Doll isn’t worth it. Don’t Bother (*).

Norm’s Rating System: Full Price  (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)

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