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‘Back in the USSR’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 12, 1992


Deran Sarafian
Frank Whaley;
Natalya Negoda;
Andrew Divoff;
Dey Young;
Roman Polanski
mild sensuality

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Its Muscovite backdrop aside, "Back in the USSR" is an undistinguished romantic thriller about a flaky Chicagoan (I think this is supposed to be ironic) who is inadvertently caught up in the machinations of the highly decentralized Russian underworld. While the leading man-boy, Frank Whaley, is an all-purpose all-American, the filmmakers go to extremes to avoid the stereotypical Russian villains. But it's just not the same without the KGB.

The story written by producers Linsay Smith and Ilmar Taska is a busy but uninvolving muddle that Whaley, born for supporting roles, can't carry off even though he's partnered with Natalya Negoda, the aggressively sensuous star of "Little Vera." The young tourist is hoping to get to know a real Russian girl when he locks onto the high-strung Negoda, an ambitious black-marketeer in possession of a stolen icon. The next thing he knows, Whaley is on the run from the police, the Russian mafia, an unaffiliated art smuggling ring and an irked monk, among others. During the not-so-merry chase, the relations between East and West are consummated.

Negoda is a shrieky hipster inclined to Russian babbling with Whaley's bland Bambi, who keeps demanding that she speak English. Finally she does and then they find they are communicating, but the resulting romance, alas, is as sizzle-less as raw bacon in a cold skillet. Directed by American Deran Sarafian, the film only comes to life when Russian supporting actor Ravil Issyanov pops in as a enterprising capitalist manque. He and his cronies hint at the tantalizing story behind the story, which never gets told.

"Back in the USSR" is rated PG-13 for mild sensuality.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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