Hong Kong helmer Johnnie To’s 2004 crimer/media critique, “Breaking News,” spawned several remakes; the first to hit screens is Russian-Swedish co-production “Newsmakers,” from Swedish director Anders Banke (“Frostbite). The Moscow-set actioner tracks a showdown between a gang of resourceful thieves and local police that escalates into a full-scale special-forces attack shown on live television. Although the transposition of the narrative works well, the result proves more cynical and self-conscious than To’s pic and lacks its bravura moving camera. Still, Banke’s near-cartoonish version provides some undemanding thrills that will entertain cineastes and genre fans. Pic opened wide locally in April.
The first-ever Russian remake of an Asian title, “Newsmakers” opens with old-school plainclothes officer Smirnov (Andrei Merzlikin) in a residential neighborhood near the center of the capital, tailing a group of heavily muscled, well-armed robbers, led by the ever-calm Herman (Yevgeni Tsyganov). When the police accidentally spook the bad guys into a show of firepower, a nearby TV cameraman captures the resulting battle.
The footage, which shows a number of dead bodies and a cowering, crying rookie cop, transfixes the nation and infuriates top staff at police HQ (who have heard a thing or two from the Kremlin). Callow PR director Katya (Mariya Mashkova) takes a crack at the image problem, suggesting they create a reality show that demonstrates the efficiency and humanity of the police as they capture the gang.
After Smirnov and his men track the robbers to a high-rise housing project, Katya, no believer in “that tired old secrecy,” deploys special-forces teams equipped with tiny cameras on their helmets, and invites the media to follow the assault in real time. As Katya works on product placement, blithely assuring her distraught elders that each unfavorable turn of events can be corrected in editing, the criminals engage in some media spin of their own.
Gleefully mordant script, by producer-distrib Sam Klebanov (who has an amusing turn as a big-name advertising director) and Aleksandr Lungin, pokes fun at the locals’ lack of esteem for the Russian police and the forces’ reputation for corruption. Overall, however, the characterizations are broader and less developed than in “Breaking News.”
Although he may lack To’s cinematic flair, Russian-fluent helmer Banke here displays the understanding of genre, suspense and comedy that distinguished his debut, together with the ability to make a little look like a lot. Used iconically, the large cast of top Russian talent looks good, but the weak link is Mashkova, who is unable to translate her beauty into a more formidable screen presence.
Slick tech package does its best, but can’t quite disguise the pic’s relatively low budget.