The San Francisco Chronicle
Carla Meyer

Pop singer Bryan Adams has taken on his most curious project since that duet with Barbra Streisand. Adams appears in fantasy sequences as the dream date of a Chechen mental patient in House of Fools, an ill-conceived comedy that gets hokier from that point.

Accomplished Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky (Runaway Train) misfires remarkably with House of Fools, which is ruined from the start by its insulting depiction of mental illness. Set in a psychiatric hospital on the Chechen border in 1996, the movie is based on a true story, which hardly seems possible, given its outsize shenanigans.

The inmates are oblivious to war around them, mostly because they're busy being "eccentric." The idea of hilarious in House of Fools is a dwarf laughing maniacally as he runs down the hall or patients doing awkward calisthenics to accordion music. The actors chew the scenery, and drool while they do it. Aren't mentally ill people just so wacky?

Iuliya Vysotskaya plays the besotted Adams fan, who believes the pop star is going to marry her. The lovely, vivacious Vysotskaya adopts a lisp and knocks her knees, but her character doesn't seem disturbed as much as young and starry-eyed. If falling for Adams' gravelly tones constitutes psychosis, then half the girls who grew up in the 1980s could have been committed.

Things get a bit more tolerable once the Chechen soldiers take over the hospital, and the movie captures some casual ironies of war, like the Russian and Chechen captains discovering they fought side by side in Afghanistan, or the Chechen soldiers bartering arms for marijuana with their Russian counterparts.

Konchalovsky dives into pathos midway through, when Vysotskaya's character takes to heart a Chechen soldier's facetious offer of marriage, and her ward mates dress her for a wedding. It's hard to tell who's being more patronizing here, the soldier or the director.