Debuting helmer Konstantin Murzenko sets up a routine-looking hired-killer plotline but then neatly turns the Russian mob movie genre on its ear with unexpectedly sustained doses of sly wit and style. “April” provides just enough firepower in the third act to please the action crowd, though Murzenko’s interests along the way include such issues as love, bravery, trust and survival in what’s portrayed as the underworld social climate of contempo Moscow. Multilayered nature of pic will ensure worldwide fest play and could provide appealing hook for specialized arthouse engagements.
Things seem to be looking up for April (Yevgeny Stychkin), an orphan offered the chance to square things with mob boss Leonid Petrovich (Mikhail Krug) by performing hits on shady businessmen Volodya (Denis Burgazliev) and Arthur (Yury “Gosha” Kutsenko). Though obviously nervous about the job, he’s bolstered by a chance meeting with the fetching Alla (Sasha Kulikova), a nurse half-heartedly moonlighting as a hooker.
Meanwhile, Volodya’s in trouble with the bosses of his own crew, the victim of headstrong business deals by his arrogant and uncontrollable partner Ekaterina (Olga Suslova). In a finely cut scene typical of pic’s unforced complexity, Arthur persuades the reluctant Volodya to participate in a scheme to snatch orphaned infants for sale on the international market just as April, approaching them in the middle of a frigid, deserted Moscow park, realizes he can’t go through with the hit after all and strides directly between the bickering pair.
Events come to a boil as the gang of baby thieves invade the maternity ward where Alla works the night shift just as April’s come to see her. Resulting melee tests April’s mettle and results in some unlikely allegiances–and visual spoofs of such action classics as “The Killing,” “Die Hard” and “Hard Boiled” as well.
Murzenko injects a healthy dose of societal criticism into the tough-guy posturing via a procession of secondary characters with unexpected vulnerabilities: A security guard writes samurai fiction on mob computers in his spare time, one of the hospital podiatrists considers himself more of a re-animator than a doctor, and a beat cop confesses to April his crisis of conscience over what he’s seen in the course of his job. Leads are well cast, with Stychkin striking just the right chord of fearful bravado, and Burgazliev, with his mournful self-doubt, coming across as an emaciated version of Gabriel Byrne.
Tech credits are a bit flat, but this can’t obscure Murzenko’s natural ease with narrative crosscutting and action setups. English subtitles on print caught are a show in and of themselves: “Life is a twisted orgasm,” someone philosophizes, while one panicked gang member cries, “The bitch of it, we should cheese it in good time.” Perhaps in a nod to pervasive influence of text messaging, “smth” is used throughout to indicate “something.”