By Phil Hall | April 17, 2009

The collapse of the Soviet Union and wave of unleashed emotions created in its aftermath would be a fascinating subject for a film. Sadly, Slava Tsukerman’s “Perestroika” is not that film.

“Perestroika” takes place in the 1992 post-Gorbachev Moscow. It is hard to forget where the film takes place, as its central character – the brilliant astrophysicist emigre Sasha Greenberg (Sam Robards) – mentions the city endlessly in the explanatory narration that takes up the first 15 minutes of running time. Besides returning to his homeland after 17 years in exile, Sasha finds himself juggling the attentions of snippy American wife (Ally Sheedy), a beautiful but emotionally needy filmmaker (Jicky Schnee), an old girlfriend from the Brezhnev days, a teenage girl who may be his hitherto unknown daughter, and the grandiloquent excess of a former professor (F. Murray Abraham).

While “Perestroika” skims along subjects of great importance – Russian anti-Semitism, the balance between science and religion, the challenge of pushing off the burden of harsh memories – it often degenerates into the Moscow equivalent of a boulevard farce as Sasha pinballs between the various women who clamor for his attention. Robards, wearing a perpetually dyspeptic expression and speaking in a Boris Badenov accent, is too dull to be taken seriously as the center of the attention. While Tsukerman’s script gives him precious little to work with, Robards lacks the ability to spin gold from straw. As a result, the film has no central foundation to build upon.

Abraham, slicing the ham too thick with his Master Thespian elocution, tries to fill the void left by Robards’ non-presence – however, this is not his movie, and his overacting throws the film out of balance. Sheedy, whose mind is clearly not on this project, barely telephones her performance in – her indifference to her surroundings offers ample evidence why her career has flatlined.

The Russians have a word for this: Nyet.

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