Rough Draft Image

Rough Draft

By Alex Saveliev | January 7, 2020

Kirill rapidly becomes a customs officer at the “intersection of the worlds.” The tower has the ability to make his wishes come true (rudimentary ones, like clothes, or the world’s most expensive wine). He acquires out-of-this-world fighting skills and intellect – both of which come in handy when fighting evil, human-sized, robotic Russian dolls. “You are invincible now,” he’s told. “You’ll never get sick. You’re almost immortal.” If the distance between Kirill and the tower grows too large, he begins to deteriorate. Our hero ultimately has to open the door to Arkan, a world that’s just like ours, only 30 years ahead in development. Our world is hence the titular “rough draft” of that world, you see?

You probably don’t, and for a good reason – it’s all a bunch of friggin’ nonsense. Granted, the filmmakers manage to infuse the bonkers narrative with some traces of originality intermittently. I appreciated the film’s stabs at an “Eastern-European steampunk” aesthetic. The sight of Kremlin surrounded by azure ocean waters would be something to behold if it weren’t rendered in spectacularly-bad CGI that would seem outdated in 2004. Same with the action: battling a robotic matrioshka sounds like a great set-piece in theory, but when it’s this choppily shot and edited and generally clumsily handled, it fails to generate any sort of excitement.

“…the filmmakers manage to infuse the bonkers narrative with some traces of originality…”

Nikita Volkov is believable enough as the hapless Kirill but ultimately ends up being a bit of a blank slate. Who can blame him? I can’t even imagine how the actors tried to unscramble this mess of a script on set.  The love story subplot, for example, involving Kirill’s reunion (of sorts) with Anna, flops on its a*s, hard – all cheese and sentiment, and no real feeling. The fact that the film is dubbed into English makes matters worse. I know there’s this whole thing about US audiences’ reluctance to read subtitles, but this is ridiculous. “What’s that cutie doing there?” a cop wonders about Kirill—“cutie” clearly not being the intended word choice. “Your entire life is a figure of speech, a rough draft,” Anna tells shim (roll credits). Some of my other favorites: “My doubts lie grounded. The tower likes you”; “Prosperity mitigates cruelty”; “Can’t you just try to do it, and get it done?” The dubbed dialogue does not match the characters’ lips, which makes it awkward and highly distracting – more so than actual subtitles could ever be. The worst part? I don’t think the dialogue would have sounded much better in Russian.

A Rough Draft tests our patience (and intelligence) at every twist and turn. It indeed feels like a very rough draft, a blueprint for a film, a series of poorly-visualized but cool-sounding concepts strung together rather shoddily. Its allusions to the Wachowskis’ The Matrix and – dear God – Jupiter Ascending are glaringly obvious. I haven’t read the books – perhaps Sergey Lukyanenko’s original prose makes sense of it all. I can’t be bothered to find out, really. I’d rather revisit Night Watch, or even better, reread one of Neil Gaiman’s masterful epics instead.

A Rough Draft (2020)

Directed: Sergey Mokritskiy

Written: Maksim Budarin, Denis Kuryshev, Sergey Mokritskiy, Olga Sobenina

Starring: Nikita Volkov, Severija Janusauskaite, Olga Borovskaya, Andrey Merzlikin, etc.

Movie score: 4/10

A Rough Draft Image

"…I appreciated the film’s stabs at an 'Eastern-European steampunk' aesthetic."

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