Chris Parry

Bryan Adams' best ever performance in a Russian film

Popular wisdom says that if you're making a film outside the USA, you need a big name that Americans will recognize to get a guaranteed payday when the film is released. Perhaps something was lost in the translation when Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky was casting House of Fools, because rather than grab a Richard Gere or a Sam Rockwell or even a Joe Pesci, he scored none other than Canadian singer/songwriter Bryan Adams. For many of you, the review ends here. For others, there's a decent film here that deserves to be seen by an audience – just not a huge one.

A Chechnya mental hospital is the setting for House of Fools, the story of what might happen if war found its way to the door of a home containing dozens of crazy folk. The film centres around Janna (Iuliya Vysotskaya), a freckle-faced girl with an unhealthy fascination surrounding Bryan Adams. She has posters of him all over her walls, she has convinced herself that she's engaged to him, and whenever things get a little bit stressed out, he appears in her fantasized version of reality.

But as messed up as Janna is, she's among the saner folk in her ward. Alongside manic dwarves, cross-dressing dancers, and women who tend to strip naked at any opportunity sits a hermit-like writer, a firebug who thinks he's in the army, and a doctor who seems to like being around the crazies more than he seems to be helping them. The home gives these people some stability, but when the Chechen/Russian military unrest reaches the hospital, the doctors and nurses flee, leaving the patients to get by as best they can.

Konchalovsky based this story on a 1996 happening where a Chechen hospital much like this one found itself under attack by soldiers, though you'd never know it just by looking at the film. House of Fools is far from realistic, with Konchalovsky going all out to put his characters in silly situations in order to have us "feel" their panic. In the end, many of these characters become caricatures rather than rounded characters, and the ever-present ghost of Bryan Adams mostly serves only to confuse the audience.

Everything comes across like a cartoon, even the production set itself. While the pictures are (for the most part) pretty enough, and the assumption that things will step up a level is prevalent throughout, despite a couple of explosions and a very surreal helicopter crash, nothing really happens. "There has to be some point to this," came the mumble from the rows behind me, but as the movie drags on to its conclusion (and it really does drag on towards the last act), you're left thinking that maybe you missed something. Maybe the big point to all this is just around the corner. Maybe it's worth waiting for.

In the end, it isn't. The performances, bar that of Vysotskaya, are generally lame. The writing, though admittedly having gone through a translation process, isn't particularly grandiose. The music is VERY much an acquired taste (at least for non-Bryan-Adams fans), and ultimately the good start is dragged down by a sluggish finale.

Sure, there are worse films out there, but for the most part I found House of Fools to be a chore. Think Platoon mixed in with Cosi, with a little Couch Trip thrown in. A rental perhaps, but only if you want to see something nobody else will see.