“Exporting Raymond” chronicles the bumpy road by which long-running U.S. sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” launched its Russian edition — now a huge hit in its own right. Docu’s real agenda, however, seems to be in providing “Raymond” creator-writer-executive producer (and this pic’s director) Phil Rosenthal his own reality-sitcom star vehicle, playing the hapless protagonist amid what feel like editorially rigged culture-clash laffs. Goldwyn plans to give the mildly amusing results a limited theatrical release this spring, but they’ll be more at home on the smallscreen, where the pic could benefit from trimming to hourlong broadcast slots.
Rosenthal introduces us to his quarrelsome parents, the source of some of the “Raymond” family dynamics, before he and Sony execs head off to Moscow to prepare a pilot, with the knowledge that shows like “Married … With Children” and “The Nanny” have already succeeded in Russian revamps.
However, “Raymond’s” path isn’t an easy one. Hiccups include finding the perfect local Ray Romano equivalent, only to have his hiring blocked by the prestigious Moscow Art Theater, for whom he’s a valuable ensemble member; an imperious costume designer who insists on glamming up a show whose original appeal was strictly casual-wear; executives’ flat refusal to shoot before live audiences; and a sudden, forced six-month hiatus before the still-fledgling project can proceed further.
Pic applies a retro Cold War tenor to the perceived perils encountered abroad, though that perception is so heavily doctored by editing, musical choices and Rosenthal’s eternally incredulous reaction shots that the docu often feels like a mockumentary.
We’re meant to share the protag’s horror that his new collaborators don’t grasp the universal qualities of his sitcom original. But what he himself can’t or won’t grasp (until cursory acknowledgment at film’s end) is that few things are more culturally specific than humor, and that some ideas, jokes and tonal approaches that worked at home must change considerably to translate for Russians.
Eventually Rosenthal is perceived as a process-hindering pest. Still, as director, he never tires of indulging Rosenthal the personality his expressions of comic exasperation, with which we are assumed to empathize. Attempts to show him connecting with a few non-showbiz Russians — his ex-military chauffeur, a family that invites him to dinner — feel forced, though the latter episode provides the pic’s best sequence, as an awkward Skype conversation between older Moscovites and his parents reveal how closely the senior New Yorkers resemble the sitcom combatants they inspired.
Packaging is pro, though many aspects underline “Exporting’s” tendency to reach for laughs through contrivance rather than authenticity — exactly the opposite of what Rosenthal purports his comedic philosophy to be.