Here's a shocker from Metromedia: The Soviet Union is a totalitarian state. Citizens are not free to criticize the government at will. You can't buy a Boy George record for love nor rubles. Imagine! Imagine getting the opportunity to film more or less unfettered in the U.S.S.R. for weeks and then returning with a documentary as single- and narrow-minded as "Inside Russia," a squandering of film and visas that airs at 9 tonight on Chan- nel 5.
Devoid of insight and painstakingly dull, the film insists on looking at the Soviets not as a people but as victims of a system, and the filmmakers saw in the nation only its contrasts to life in the United States. Guess what; we're better off. Moscow is "an uptight city of suspicion" and Russia a "land of paranoia," the narrator says. Thank heaven we have nothing like that in Washington or the good old U.S.A.
Even the most innocuous occurrences are mined for their gloomy portents. When the filmmakers happen upon a man in the streets of Leningrad with a stalled Chevy Bel-Air, they want to interrogate him about how it got there and assume from his unwillingness to chat that he has been stifled by the state. When a few old drunks are spotted on a park bench they are described as "sad souls" who "find freedom in booze." If the Russians came here and photographed homeless indigents sleeping on grates, then showed that to the folks back home as evidence the American system had failed, that would be propaganda. "Inside Russia" is merely witless pandering to renewed Cold War animosities.
Poorly written to a flabbergasting degree by producer Paul Smirnoff and others, the film's talk track is an unrelenting babble of tiny-minded invective. No scene can speak for itself, and the message must be hammered home incessantly, so that while the camera shows mourners at a mass grave for World War II dead, the narrator says, "Afghanistan is not mentioned here." No? How odd! A visit to a cabaret where a performer sings an amusingly clunky version of "Let's Get Physical" is ruined when the narrator says, "It's a long way from the Bolshoi Ballet."
Outside a beach resort on the Black Sea, a recently married couple is questioned about Afghanistan, which is the ide'e fixe of this pedagogic travelogue. Astonishingly enough, the newlyweds do not launch into impassioned denunciations of their government. The narrator says, "The answers seemed a little too pat. We wondered what they would have said if the Soviet coordinator wasn't present." Really, why did they go all this way for the kind of harangue they could have gotten just by calling up Patrick Buchanan on the telephone?