Every character but one in "A Friend of the Deceased" is interesting enough to be the center of a movie. So guess which one winds up being the major focus of the film?
This Ukrainian-made thriller, which was shown at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, suffers from having a lead character who's far too remote and aloof to sympathize with, as well as the filmmaker's dreadful miscalculation in overall tone.
"A Friend of the Deceased" would have been a pretty good dark comedy, but as directed by Vyacheslav Krishtofovich (1991's "Adam's Rib"), it's hard to figure out whether things are supposed to be ironic or if they're supposed to be dramatic.
What makes it so irritating is that the idea behind the film is so interesting. (It would be pretty original, too, if not for the similarly uneven comedy "Bulworth," which sports a similar plot.)
Anatoli (Alexandre Lazarev), an unemployed intellectual, is distraught that his wife, Katia (Angelika Nevolina), is leaving him for another man. So with the help of his shady friend Dima (Eugen Pachin), the suicidal but cowardly man hires a killer to do the dirty deed for him.
Complications arise when Anatoli meets Vika (Tatiana Krivitska), a young prostitute who takes an instant liking to him.
Suddenly reinvigorated, Anatoli unsuccessfully tries to call off the "hit," and is forced to hire a second man (Sergiy Romanyuk) to protect him with lethal force, if necessary.
Things get even more ironic from there, with an ending that's supposed to take the story full circle. But Lazarev's placid performance is off-putting and Krishtofovich doesn't give us enough of a reason to care about the character.
To their credit, the other cast members are quite appealing, especially Krivitska and Elena Korikova, who plays the wife of the first hitman. Unfortunately, they're both relegated to supporting roles.
"A Friend of the Deceased" is rated R for profanity, female nudity and violent slapping and fist fighting, as well as use of ethnic slurs.