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Rough Draft, A
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by Jay Seaver

"A better movie in a more optimized universe."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's never a particularly good sign when a viewer's first reaction to a movie is "what is this 'to be continued' garbage?"; this is especially true when the film in question comes from a country that does not exactly have a great pipeline to said viewer, as in this case. After all, if Russian popcorn movies can't be expected to show up in North America, one might never see any follow-up. What's worse here is that, two hours later, the question of whether or not that second part would be of interest is still up in the air; "A Rough Draft" offers an interesting setting but doesn't get very far.

It starts with one of the good science fiction hooks; video-game developer Kirill (Nikita Volkov) ties one on at a company party, only to return to work the next day to find nobody remembers him, and the same goes for his ex-girlfriend Anna (Olga Borovskaya). When he returns home, there's a woman he never met by the name of Renata Ivanova (Severija Janusauskaite) in his apartment, and it appears the neighbors' memories of him are being erased in real time. It turns out that he is being drafted to serve as a sort of customs agent between alternate realities, and while he has been removed from this world, he has a talent for opening doors to others - and who knows, he may be the one who can find a path to "Arkan", which urban legend says is controlling many others, including our own.

There is certainly a lot there that sounds like a lot of fun could be a lot of fun, and maybe it was in Sergey Lukyanenko's original novel. But while the film is filled with neat ideas and fun visuals, director Sergey Mokritskiy and his team are kind of terrible at introducing them and letting them play out in a way that seems in any way natural. As good an opening hook as the film has, Lukyanenko et al use the opening act to introduce a lot of things that won't much matter (and skimp on the bits that will), before ditching it all with a big "wait, what?" moment for a new status quo. They continually jerk the viewer back and forth with things that are needlessly cryptic or just shrugged off like they should be obvious. There's some interesting details to the world-building, but not even much promise of a story that one can get involved in until the movie is almost over.

Despite that, it's got like than its share of entertaining moments and a decent cast. Lead Nikita Volkov is charismatic enough to get past not really having any sort of script to work with, jumping from pouring on the charm to entertaining outrage to a sort of resigned melancholy as the film needs it but never seeming to go on autopilot; he has Kirill pine for Anna well enough to make up for at least some of how the filmmakers take it for granted that the audience will care about this relationship rather than investing them in it. He plays off everybody well, but the film is most alive when Severija Janusauskaite is around as Renata; this sort of bull-in-a-china-shop interdimensional agent who is at best annoyed by Kirill and often willing to kill him only works if an actress jumps in with both feet, and she knows it.

The filmmakers are also quite prepared to go big visually, which is heartening - the ideas it has about alternate timelines and a sort of decadent bureaucracy managing it tingle the most when there are a lot of little details to play with (sure, the stories of tiny changes that make a world of difference to one person can be affecting, but this isn't that sort of movie). And every once in a while it goes all-in showing them, from an enjoyably believable steampunk world to killer robots in the shape of Russian matryoshka dolls - although, admittedly, it is something of a disappointment that they do not have smaller killer robots inside them.

You could put together a heck of a trailer for "A Rough Draft" showing all the clips of different environments, high concepts, and special effects that's for sure. It's too bad everything that would be in between the trailer's scenes didn't get enough attention; this movie needs a sequel to be satisfying but doesn't do enough to really get one excited about another two hours in its world..

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32457&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/25/19 20:36:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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