Sony // 2008 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 31st, 2008
Live among the dead.
My assignment today is to review a film called Moscow Zero. It is not a good film. It is the sort of film that might inspire me to complain about the terrors of blind review assignments. I have no right to do so. Believe it or not, I requested to see this film, because I was intrigued by some little blurb I had read about it somewhere. I knew that the film starred Vincent Gallo and Val Kilmer, and involved some super-secret spiritual underground in Russia. I also heard rumors that Val Kilmer was playing the devil in the film. "Okay," I thought to myself. "Let's check this thing out."
Oh, dear reader, how I wish I hadn't. Moscow Zero is one of the most agonizingly horrible films I've seen this year. It is only 82 minutes long. I could have sworn that it lasted at least two and a half hours. It is utterly incompetent filmmaking, which demonstrates how not to do almost everything related to the world of cinema. Ladies and gentlemen, I did not like this movie. I did not like it one bit. I did not find it entertainingly bad, or offensively disgusting, or annoyingly cliched. No, this is something else. Rarely have I seen such a stomach-churning blend of directorial pretense, incomprehensible screenwriting, and amateurish execution.
The film opens with a shot of a church in Moscow. We then have a long camera shot of various parts of Moscow, as a car drives down the road. I was immediately reminded of those cheesy horror movies that pad the running time by offering lengthy shots of a car driving down the road as ominous synthesizer music plays in the background. Here, that ominous music is accompanied by various satanic noises...people talking backwards, choirs singing in Latin, etc. This has been the thing to do ever since Jerry Goldsmith wrote his score for The Omen, but this one is a very pale imitator. That's surprising, considering it was written by the Oscar-nominated Javier Navarette, who provided the memorable score for Pan's Labyrinth.
That's what baffles me so much about this movie. There are numerous professional individuals involved, but all of them are acting as if the sum of their experience consists of a week-long high school film class...that they took 17 years ago. The lead role is played by Vincent Gallo (The Brown Bunny), who is an American explorer of some sort. His mission in this film is to find a missing friend, played by the talented Rade Serbedzija (Before the Rain). Serbedzija has become trapped in this aforementioned spiritual underworld, and Gallo is taking a team of mercenaries along to help him stage a rescue mission. Kilmer plays a mysterious character who lives in this strange spiritual underworld. So, we have three capable actors who should at least make the film watchable.
That is most assuredly not the case. Gallo gives a performance that can only be called "surprisingly terrible." Did he bother to learn his lines for this film? It certainly sounds as if he is reading cue cards. His scenes are all either overplayed or underplayed to some extreme, never reaching anything resembling credibility. Meanwhile, Serbedzija spends the vast majority of his screen time running through various caverns and reading dark spiritual messages that he finds on walls. None of this is remotely interesting. Meanwhile, Kilmer appears, offers a funny-sounding Russian accent, and vanishes unceremoniously. It's a glorified cameo. Kilmer certainly doesn't deserve second billing here.
After the first 10 minutes of set-up, Moscow Zero offers a series of scenes that it repeats over and over and over again. First, we get some mysterious ghost/demon/angel children running around while those satanic voices whisper things in the background. Someone will say, "What was that?" We are never told what that was. Second, we'll cut away to Gallo and his pals, who mumble their lines. "Uh, we should go over that way." "To the wall that says 'Hell' on it?" "Yeah, we should go to that." "Okay, let's go to that." Third, we have those lengthy scenes of Serbedzija talking to himself. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that there is essentially nothing else to this movie. It's 82 minutes of guys wandering through a series of identical tunnels and caverns, mumbling nonsense to themselves and occasionally being creeped out by ghost children that they cannot see. The ending is spectacularly underwhelming. The transfer is pretty crummy. This is a very murky film visually, and I frequently had a hard time following who was supposed to be where. This is partially due to terrible editing, which has absolutely no sense of the physical space of things. The sound is even worse. The original score is much too loud here. There are at least a half-dozen scenes where the dialogue is almost completely drowned out by the score. Who is responsible for this? Maybe it's intentional. When the dialogue can be heard, it is not worth hearing.
The film looks incredibly cheap. If I had to guess, I would have imagined that the movie was made with the pocket change of the cast and crew. I was startled to discover that the movie had a budget of 10 million dollars. There has got to be some sort of secret loophole involved here. I can't imagine enough people actually watching this to earn the movie 10 million dollars. I hoped to learn more about why the film was made. There are no supplements on the DVD, so no luck there. I did a Google search, using a wide variety of word combinations. Absolutely nothing. No interview with Gallo, nothing with Kilmer, nothing with "Luna" (the director, who I assume is a moth), nothing with anybody. Did they intend for anyone to actually see this film? No matter. You should not see this film.
I will close by telling you this. I am not a fan of audience participation. Maybe that makes me an elitist, but I dislike sitting in movies where people shout at the screen. "No, don't go around that corner! You'll be killed!" "Whooo! Kill that SOB!" You get the idea. It's a good thing I didn't see this movie in a theatre (Heh-heh-heh, right), because it reduced me to the very behavior I have been annoyed by on numerous occasions. I wasn't talking to the characters, but to the director and the actors, berating them for a wide variety of cinematic crimes. Please, heed my warning. Spare yourself. I've lost 82 minutes of my life that I can't get back. Don't make the same mistake. Preserve your dignity and your peace of mind, and don't be tempted to watch this movie. Even if you love terrible movies...no. Not even a wide variety of companions or an endless supply of alcohol can save this one. Guilty as hell, which is where this movie belongs.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R