One part "Bourne Identity," one part "Lilya 4-Ever," one part "Death and the Maiden" and a whole lot of Sean Ramsay.

Curiously conceived “Victory Day” takes one part “Bourne Identity,” one part “Lilya 4-Ever,” one part “Death and the Maiden” and a whole lot of Sean Ramsay — the debuting producer/director/co-scenarist who casts himself as a “firebrand journalist” with extensive embittering experience in Russia. That Ramsay apparently has a similar real-life resume doesn’t make the awkward juggling of political righteousness and thriller cliches any more credible, or his own uber-tough-guy persona less vain. Pic opened a four-wall San Francisco engagement sans fanfare; smallscreen prospects will improve but still face an uphill climb.

Sam Cassels (Ramsay) is first seen being escorted to the border, deportation his reward for slugging Russia’s minister of finance at a press conference. Sam’s that kinda guy: quick to pick a fight, bridge-burning, morally upright perhaps on big issues but pretty much a macho blowhard. Given his humorless perf, it’s doubtful that Ramsay views this protagonist thus, though several subsidary characters do.

They include the old friend who sets him up with an apartment and Prague-based magazine photojournalist job. Sam soon quits the latter, punching out (sense a pattern?) his editor for good measure. But no matter: He has a higher calling, even if the reasons behind it are never fully explicated beyond the suggestion that this Russian-fluent American is a natural avenging angel. His goal is to become a one-man war crimes tribunal to Russian billionaire Anton Igralski (Milan Kolik), whom he blames in large part for the war in Chechnya he witnessed, as well as for plundering the former U.S.S.R. of wealth and resources via 1990s “reforms” that benefited robber barons while leaving the majority impoverished.

Meanwhile, Sam rescues Oksana (Natalie Shiyanova), a Russian girl forced into prostitution. She becomes his helpmate in a farfetched kidnapping of Igralski, who’s in Prague overseeing his shady multinational business empire. Once this quarry is captured, “Victory Day” turns garrulous and stagy as Sam broadcasts, via the Internet, his bound quarry’s interrogation on charges of corruption and war profiteering.

Rather absurdly, there’s time for sequences of Oksana running through flower fields (they’ve holed up at an abandoned farmhouse). There’s also the odd dislocation of Kolik’s dialogue being entirely dubbed in post (by another Czech actor, Zdenek Maryska). But most bizarre is the pic’s thread in which attendees of the “Wellington Group’s Annual Retreat” watch all Sam’s activities with evident approval — they’re a secret society of international oligarchs who apparently can spy on anyone, anywhere.

Needless to say, “Victory Day” would be a whole lot easier to swallow if it took itself less seriously. (This material might easily have swung into black comedy a la William Richert’s cult classic “Winter Kills.”) That it’s not an unintentional howler, despite some hoots, is a tribute to director Ramsay’s decent assembly, which is pro on a budget despite flat dialogue and some amateurish perfs from creative-team personnel drafted for onscreen duty.

Victory Day


A New Media Intl. presentation. Produced, directed by Sean Ramsay. Screenplay, Ramsay, David Fellowes, Tony Weston, from a story by Ramsay.


Camera (color), Erik Krambek; editors, Uli Schoen, Markus Herm; music, Christoph Zirngibl, Rhett Brewer; production designer, Irene Balmanoukian; costume designer, Tatjana Tumensova Irbis; sound (Dolby Digital), Michael Diekmann; supervising sound editor, Daniel Dietenberger. Reviewed at Lumiere Cinemas, San Francisco, Nov. 20, 2009. Running time: 103 MIN.


Natalie Shiyanova, Milan Kolik, Sean Ramsay, David Fellowes, Brian Caspe, Gordon Truefitt, Michael Diekmann, Jiri Hanc, John Mcgarrity, Eva Sitta, Igor Zolotarev, Lubos Vrnata.
(English, Russian dialogue)
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