Few films wear their influences so clearly on their sleeves that they appear in the very title. But then few films are so clear about what you can expect. If you fancy a Russian take on Gareth Evans‘ superlative Indonesian actioner The Raid, that’s exactly what you’re going to get. Just go in expecting every single aspect to be significantly poorer than its illustrious forebear and there’s every chance you’ll have a decent enough time.
Nikita (Ivan Kotik), former sniper for the Russian Spetznaz, orchestrates a raid on a factory operating as a front for Mafia activity. He’s aided by a motley crew of track-suited thugs who look like early ’90s Dutch ravers who turned to steroids instead of Gabber. He’s ostensibly working for a corrupt business (Ilya Antonenko) who is looking to muscle in on the operation, but has unfinished business with the current CEO.
Russian Raid is simultaneously brutally simple and needlessly convoluted. Even for an action film, it is relentless. Perhaps this is to cover up the complete lack of characterisation. While it is perhaps fruitless to refer back to The Raid constantly, Kryuchkov’s film brings it on itself. Evans’ film sets up a solid good against evil background from which to build. Motives are noticeably murky here, so when a series of double and triple crosses occur later in the film, it’s difficult to follow, or even care. The only lynchpin is Nikita, who’s too taciturn a figure to really form an allegiance with. What starts off as interesting enough as various fighting styles clash becomes a meaningless morass of broken bones and bullet wounds.
Still, the opening half will keep fans of hand-to-hand happy enough. Versatile stuntman Kotik has an interesting, speedy fighting style which is juxtaposed with the barrelling blunt force of the various boxers, martial artists, and powerlifters who make up the rest of the cast. Chief among these is MMA fighter Vladimir Mineev, all pugnacious attitude, bust nose and cauliflower ears, who instantly bristles against the smaller, lither Nikita being put in charge of the mission. That is as close as you’ll come to character development, although it’s initially amusing to see the meat-headed crew battering their way through another room of bulky security guards and look to Nikita, unconsciously looking for approval from their Sphinx-like leader. The action itself handled competently enough, but there are certain tricks employed like the cameras being over-cranked so the action looks sped up. This is likely to paper over the cracks in the choreography, or a dearth of ability in some of the fighters. Once again, this is another area in which it is noticeably deficient next to its progenitor.
There are far worse action films around than Russian Raid. In fact, it’s far from the cheap knock-off that the title suggests, and there is much that will appeal to anyone looking for a no-nonsense modern slab of bone-crunching savagery. Perhaps if it hadn’t set its stall so firmly next to The Raid, perhaps the finest martial arts film of the century so far, it would look even better. Unfortunately, it’s always going to be judged by the coat-tails its chosen to ride on.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 22 Mar 2021