A curate’s Faberge egg of a film, Russian sci-fi pic “Target” is decidedly strange. Script by cult writer Vladimir Sorokin and helmer Alexander Zeldovich loosely resets “Anna Karenina” in a near-future Russia where abandoned science facilities have magical powers, and special goggles reveal numerically how much good and evil exist in any given person. Unfortunately, no enhanced vision is needed to see what’s good here (some ideas, the production design and costumes) and what’s not (the direction and editing). Still, the pic could target a cult following if it manages to break out beyond Russia.
It’s 2020 (a little pun on the vision themes that run through the script), and the Russian minister of natural resources, Viktor Chelshchev (Maxim Sukhanov), and his beautiful wife, Zoya (English thesp Justine Waddell), have nearly everything they could want: wealth, health and a high position in society, calculated by the government to a precise numeric rank.
But some people are never happy, so along with Zoya’s TV-presenter brother, Dmitri (Danila Kozlovsky), and high-ranking border-control officer Nikolai (Vitaly Kischenko), Viktor and Zoya travel to a remote mountain area in search of a treatment known only to a few. Deep in a valley, a disused military facility locally known as the Target, which was built to collect “good” radiation from outer space, endows anyone who enters it with eternal youth.
Once the party returns to Moscow with local girl Taya (Nina Loschinina) in tow, all of them find themselves jazzed up with a strange new sexual energy. Zoya and Nikolai begin an affair, while Dmitri starts a relationship with Anna (Daniela Stoyanovich), whom he met on the journey. But the experience in the Target has a further strange effect on some of the travelers, making them unusually indifferent to others’ feelings.
The above description barely covers a script that veers off in all kinds of bizarre directions over the film’s far-too-long 154-minute running time. Large swathes of story — including the “Anna Karenina” update and a subplot about Taya — are poorly executed if not perfectly pointless. Other elements are genuinely compelling, such as a “Fahrenheit 451”-style thread about a huge superhighway between China and Europe, or the quirky good-and-evil glasses gimmick, which is never properly integrated.
The funky ultra-modernist production design (in the future, our laptops will apparently be made of Perspex) and half-futuristic, half-ordinary costumes consistently grab attention and make the pic hard to dismiss out of hand. Sorokin’s imaginative fingerprints can be sensed in the script’s more whimsical sci-fi aspects, but helming by Zeldovich (whose last film, “Moscow,” was another collaboration with Sorokin, little seen outside Russia) is wildly uneven. Sometimes the film plays like a conventional Russian melodrama, with badly post-recorded sound and hammy thesping. Just occasionally, however, arresting, inventive images sneak through.
Bizarrely, lenser Alexander Ilkhovski has now worked on four Sorokin-penned pics by three different helmers (this, “Moscow,” Ivan Dykhovichny’s “The Kopeck” and Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s extraordinary “4”). Here, he supersaturates the palette, creating a slightly lurid comicbook quality that’s oddly effective. Weakest tech link is easily Leonid Desyatnikov’s unrelenting and banal score, which undermines the film’s best scenes.