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Film review: House of Fools

Published: Friday, July 11 2003 10:11 a.m. MDT

"House of Fools" is filled with quirks and little else. In fact, it's hard to remember another recent film that so quickly goes disastrously awry.

In fact, the idea that this mind-numbing comedy-drama was selected to be its country's nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar — fortunately it didn't make the cut — sort of makes you wonder who was involved in the selection process.

That's because "House of Fools" is unbelievably insensitive in its depiction of the mentally ill. And it also continues one of the most disturbing new cinematic trends of late — the inclusion of songs by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. (Adams also contributed music to last year's animated adventure "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," which was also nominated for an Oscar. Go figure.)

"House of Fools" is based on the true story of psychiatric patients left to fend for themselves after a hospital was overrun by Russian and Chechen soldiers. This highly fictionalized version focuses on one of the patients, Zhanna (Yuliya Vysotskaya), who is suffering from the delusion that she's engaged to Bryan Adams.

That is, until she meets Ahmed (Sultan Islamov), a soldier who jokingly makes some marriage comments about the accordion-playing woman to his friends. Next thing you know, she's got her bags packed and is turning her back on her fellow patients.

It's not really worth going any deeper into this nonsense, except to say that writer-director Andrei Konchalovsky's decision to make the characters wacky and zany is completely wrong-headed. Also, Adams' cringe-inducing single "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman" is repeated ad nauseam, and at times, the whole movie feels like an extended video for the song.

As Zhanna, Vysotskaya is one of the least appealing and most irksome leading actors ever. And she adopts an inconsistent speech impediment that makes her sound like a cartoon character (Sylvester the Cat, to be specific).

"House of Fools" is rated R for wartime violence (gunfire, some fisticuffs and explosive mayhem), occasional use of strong sex-related profanity and crude sexual slang terms, some graphic gore, drug content (use and abuse of tranquilizers, as well as some pharmaceutical use) and brief, full female nudity. Running time: 108 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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