No one's ever been quite so dementedly inconsistent as director Andrei Konchalovsky: He's co-written a pair of Andrei Tarkovsky nuggets and helmed Homer & Eddie, a forgotten '80s road comedy with Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Belushi. He's directed Siberiade, a four-hour epic considered one of the most important Russian films of all time, and directed the three-hour Armand Assante-starring The Odyssey, one of the least important miniseries of all time. And finally, he's brought us both the Kurosawa-co-written genre classic Runaway Train and (ulp) Tango & Cash.
Now House of Fools brings Konchalovsky back home, though the end result can be quite perplexing. Why? Well, for starters, it's a look at the Chechen civil war that features several extended cutaways to – no joke – a warbling Bryan Adams. Even more confounding, though, is that these sequences – in which he croons his ancient hit Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman in the mind of our gamine protagonist (Iuliya Vysotskaya) – are the strongest and most unique bits in the whole picture.
That's no slight on the rest of Fools, believe it or not. Set in an asylum alternately beset by Chechen rebels and Russian troops, it's a near-exact copycat of the anti-war-by-way-of-hippies classic King of Hearts, in which the inhabitants of a sanatorium watch as soldiers massacre each other. Konchalovsky may dress it up in bomb explosions, rapid gunfire, aggressive editing and shaky-cam work, but he still retains Hearts' goopy "Who's really insane?" sentiment.
Regardless, Fools does have its share of charm, if only for a bit: Unpredictable and not unlike a cinematic whirlwind, it's clearly the work of an auteur back in his element. But auteur or not, after a couple of reels the endless rib-nudging starts to hurt. All things considered, I might actually rather sit through Tango & Cash.