Friday, March 6, 2015

VIKTOR (2014): 'All because of that fat app!'

It's easy to say Gerard Depardieu is trying to horn in on Liam Neeson's action, but this thing right now with old guys who kick ass with a vengeance really dates back to Steven Soderbergh's The Limey (1999), a film that Depardieu's Franco-Russian vehicle resembles arguably more closely than any of Neeson's recent action films. In both The Limey and Viktor, an ex-con with a will and skills that are underrated due to his age goes to a strange country to find out who's responsible for the death of his child. In Soderbergh's film Terrence Stamp traveled from the UK to the USA. In Viktor Depardieu goes to Russia, where the actor conveniently happens to live now as an act of tax protest. The comparisons end there, however, because one you recall that The Limey is a good movie comparisons are no longer fair to Viktor.

Every generation, it seems, has its great actor who goes to pot in the belly for reasons perhaps unfathomable. Depardieu, once globally plausible as a leading man, has become the Marlon Brando of our time, but now hopes to be accepted as an unstoppable force of destruction, and as someone who can still attract the likes of Elizabeth Hurley to his bed. Hurley is this international production's token English speaker, though everyone in the picture speaks English, with varying degrees of incompetence. Honestly, some of the Russian performers make Depardieu himself sound Shakespearean, but all too often the great man himself mumbles mechanically through his lines. Still, nothing that comes from his mouth sounds as awful or hilarious as the rage of a Russian mobster who blames his current troubles on "that fat APP!"

Viktor, our protagonist, is an art thief whose boy got involved in drugs, got a girl pregnant, and died somewhere in Chechnya. Viktor goes to Russia with a lot of questions and some friends to help him get answers. The Russian police are aware of him and give him some warnings but given their inability to deter the country's reputed authoritarianism doesn't look like much to worry about. Viktor's method is to have his friends capture someone (sometimes with Viktor's own help) whom he can torture to learn the next step in his quest. Since Depardieu obviously can't do much real action, Viktor becomes a mild case of torture porn -- more so if we think of the audience as masochists. I hate to say it, but the best scene in the film, or at least Depardieu's most enthusiastic acting, comes when Viktor is enjoying a meal. He loves to cook, he tells a shackled victim, and he apparently loves to eat before he tortures someone. Food gets him in the mood to thrust cooking utensils into sensitive areas.

Philippe Martinez, who had previously directed Jean-Claude Van Damme in Wake of Death and Val Kilmer in something called The Steam Experiment, wrote and directed Viktor. He puts more energy into his direction of a Chechen folk dance performance over the end credits than he invests in the by-the-numbers plot. Everyone involved really seemed to think that any sixtysomething actor of repute can make a hit of this sort of story. And maybe there was a market for Viktor in quarters where Depardieu may be a reactionary hero for his tax resistance. But unless he exemplifies some patriarchal national manliness for you Viktor will look like little more than a fat man's vanity project, and a sad one at that given the star's storied career. But if no one weeps over the latest Taken movie because Neeson once made Schindler's List I suppose you can't hold Viktor against Depardieu's legacy.

No comments: