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House of Fools (April 25/03)

House of Fools was Russia's official entry for this year's Academy Awards, and if this is the best they can do, their worst must be horrifyingly bad.

The film transpires primarily inside a Russian psychiatric hospital, where Janna (Julia Vysotsky) has been living for an undetermined amount of time. Aside from her obsession with Bryan Adams (yes, that Bryan Adams), she seems to be somewhat normal - at least compared to some of the other patients. But when a war between Russians and Chechens begins to infringe on the hospital's property, the various men and women held within are forced to fend for themselves (the lone nurse and doctor are quick to flee).

House of Fools is purportedly based on a true story, and if anything, the film is proof positive that not all true-life tales should be committed to celluloid. Though the concept of the movie is kind of interesting, the execution is all wrong. Director and writer Andrei Konchalovsky's approach to the material is utterly disastrous, turning what could've been an edgier One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest into a colossal bore. Aside from the fact that there isn't a single compelling character in the film, the complete lack of a storyline makes the relatively short running time feel about ten times longer.

Not helping matters is the unpleasant look of the film, which likely is an accurate representation of a Russian nuthouse - but nevertheless is about as interesting visually as a pile of gravel. Konchalovsky's directorial flourishes are anything but subtle; his shaky camerawork and use of various filters only serves to disorient and annoy the audience. His intent was (presumably) to make us feel as though we're in the same boat as the characters, but this is the sort of thing where some serious distance is not only called for but required. Questionable visuals aside, the film has some serious pacing issues. There comes a moment in which everything seems wrapped up, but the film keeps going for an additional half hour - an excruciating 30 minutes that feels almost endless.

And then, of course, there are the sporadic interludes featuring Adams singing Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman? - a song which, by the end of the movie, even the most ardent Adams fan will be sick of. Adams' presence is completely pointless and unnecessary, and serves as the most obvious indicator that the director is perhaps more loony than any of the characters.

out of