Little Bro's a Patriot With Bad Taste

One could say that the best thing about "Brat 2" is "Brat," the very popular film that preceded it, but that assertion is almost too obvious to serve as a final conclusion on the film's merits.

The best thing about "Brat 2" is actually its opening scenes, in which the main character Danila (Sergei Bodrov Jr., who also starred in the first "Brat") arrives at the Ostankino broadcasting tower to find a New Russian mafioso leaning against a black sport utility vehicle, reciting Pushkin. Danila then approaches a blonde woman, who pushes aside her bodyguard to eagerly answer his request for directions to an associate's studio, adding that he should pass on a "hello" from her.

"And who are you?" Danila then asks, at which point 99 percent of most Moscow audiences will erupt in hysterical laughter, for our naive hero is about the only 20-something male in Russia who doesn't recognize pop diva Irina Saltykova (who plays herself), perhaps best known for her participation in a condom-promotion campaign, which involved printing her likeness on thousands of condom wrappers.

The inclusion of a number of cameos by famous people in the opening scenes helps to distinguish "Brat 2," now playing at the Cinema Center and the Karo Film complex, from its predecessor right from the start. "Brat 2's" opening is indicative of its whole: It's clear that the film's director Alexei Balabanov and producer Sergei Salyanov never intended to produce a serious work; rather they decided to openly reap the benefits of both the first film's reputation and of all that pop culture popularity affords by creating something that resembles a two-hour pop music video.

The 40-year-old Balabanov is skilled at filming stunningly beautiful scenes of urban landscapes. The film's Chicago scenes are as gorgeous as the shots of St. Petersburg in "Brat." Here again, though, Balabanov's editing recalls the rhythms of a music video. He incorporates split-second flashes of a black screen into the action in all the right places, effectively making a screen idol of nonactor Bodrov (something "East-West" director Regis Wargnier didn't manage to accomplish with the young actor's performance in that film) and manages to produce a Quentin Tarantino-esque film without imitating "Pulp Fiction."

We must recognize here one simple fact: For his compatriots, the stuff of Tarantino's work is mere "pulp fiction," but for us it's very real. That very same bandit-style pulp is as much a part of contemporary Russian intellectual discourse as is the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, and was very relevant to "Brat."

But "Brat 2" is neither bandit-style pulp nor detective story, but rather a kind of compromise between a pop song and a joke. Nevertheless, that's enough to make the film's first half, the part shot in Russia, hilarious and entertaining. No one ever said, after all, that pop art can't make brilliant fine art.

The only problem is that, as opposed to the Russian classics, this country's pop is rarely appropriate for export. This fact is clearly demonstrated in the second half of the film, which was shot in the United States. The further the film progresses, the more it breaks down. Dialogues lose their appeal, the plot thins and the characters become imbeciles.

Recalling an action hero from the popular computer game "Kill the Enemy," Danila's face shows no expression as he mows down everyone who stands in his way, most of them innocent bystanders. The world is the enemy for Danila, and, since he's Russian, the film tells us, he never gives up. "Brat 2's" most intensely patriotic moments are punctuated by similarly idiotic patriotic notions.

Unfortunately for the film, Balabanov and Salyanov have chosen to sell the film on patriotism and anti-American sentiment. We are Russians, it says, recalling Nikita Mikhalkov's trailer for "The Barber of Siberia," and that explains a lot. The Americans, it continues, have been as much trouble for the world as they have for African-Americans. (It's probably worth mentioning that the word "nigger" is spoken in "Brat 2" with a frequency that Tarantino's work can't even begin to rival, and that even more Russian-language abusive slang is heaped on minorities in "Brat 2" than in "Brat.")

Although all of this might imply a certain degree of opportunism on the part of the film's authors, it must be mentioned that the plot for "Brat 2" was conceived even before recent events in the Balkans took place, and before last year's rise in nationalist feeling. The authors' talent here is in sensing which direction the wind is blowing, what ideas are gaining popularity, and in employing them to such a degree that they become absurdities.

Among other things, perhaps "Brat 2" is a response to all the nonsense "they" include in their films about "us." But none of that makes up the film's main message, anyway.

The stupidity and absurdity that arise in the second hour of "Brat 2" lead audiences to conclusions the authors probably didn't anticipate - namely that the same political correctness they're so tired of may actually be a good idea. It teaches, after all, that killing is bad and that loud declarations of love for one's country are in bad taste.

Even Mikhalkov's "Barber" didn't permit itself those.