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Ideas that need a good scrubbing

In 'A Foreign Affair,' two hapless brothers head to Russia to find a bride, but love isn't on their minds.

May 07, 2004|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

The proverb goes, "Laughing bride, weeping wife. Weeping bride, laughing wife."


The lackluster "A Foreign Affair," about two American brothers from the heartland who head to Russia on a romance tour to find a wife -- not for love, mind you, but to do the cooking and cleaning -- is neither funny enough to be a comedy nor serious enough to pass for drama, and it ambles along aimlessly before grinding to an unconvincing halt.

If the filmmakers had simply picked a genre and embraced it, at least someone would have had a shot at laughing. Or weeping. Or anything resembling an emotional response.

Tim Blake Nelson and David Arquette play the siblings, two farmers left in the lurch when their mother rather selfishly drops dead. Jake Adams (Nelson) is the brains of the operation who looks after his man-child brother, Josh (Arquette), and reaches his wit's end when they're reduced to wallowing in their own filth and eating canned food. One would think farmers would be a little more industrious.

After conventional attempts at securing domestic help fail, the pragmatic Jake sees an ad for a website promising beautiful, subservient women from Russia. The caveat being that you have to go and pick out one yourself.

Using some fuzzy math, he deduces that it would actually be cheaper for him and Josh to take the tour to St. Petersburg and bring home a woman willing to cook and clean in exchange for a green card than to pay someone locally. The odds of either of the brothers landing a wife in a more modern way were apparently too astronomical to calculate.

While vetting the hundreds of possible Russian brides, they encounter Angela (the always charming Emily Mortimer -- wasted here), a journalist making a documentary about romance tours. Angela is appalled by the whole idea but takes an interest in Jake's frank, if chauvinistic, approach.

Written by Geert Heetebrij and directed by Helmut Schleppi, European filmmakers making their feature debuts, "A Foreign Affair" is truly that. It was shot on location in St. Petersburg with Chihuahua, Mexico (!) standing in for middle America.

The wintry Russian landscape, however, does little to reconstitute the freeze-dried story. Nelson has the unenviable task of playing the rigid, humorless Jake, whose eleventh-hour transformation is more than a little hard to accept. Though his obvious concern for his brother and desire to do right by him make Jake a sympathetic character, the screenplay gives Nelson nothing to help make the final leap more plausible.

Arquette has more fun in his role, but Josh's changes are even tougher to accept than Jake's.

The trip not only loosens up the socially awkward Josh, but he also appears to undergo a reverse lobotomy that allows him to stand up to his brother, only to have it reversed again later.

The interwoven documentary footage of actual participants in a romance tour does little to make the film any more convincing.


'A Foreign Affair'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexual references.

Times guidelines: Excruciatingly tame

Tim Blake Nelson...Jake Adams

David Arquette...Josh Adams

Emily Mortimer...Angela Beck

Larry Pine...Tour host Ken

Lois Smith...Ma Adams

A Black & White Films production, in association with Bijker Productions and Dreamscape Films, released by Zenpix and Innovation Film Group. Director Helmut Schleppi. Executive producers Dirk-Jan Bijker, Tonneke Bijker, David J. Bijker, Esli Bijker, David Arquette, Tim Blake Nelson, Geert Heetebrij, Helmut Schleppi. Screenplay by Geert Heetebrij. Lighting cameraman M. David Mullen. Operating cameraman Helmut Schleppi. Editor Helmut Schleppi. Music Todd Holden Capps. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Exclusively at ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-4226; and the Regent, 1045 Broxton Ave., Westwood, (310) 281-8233.

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