Newsmakers -- Film Review

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NEW YORK -- Based on Johnnie To's 2004 cult thriller "Breaking News," "Newsmakers" toys with deep-dish themes but ultimately is aimed at a far less demanding audience. The original plot (by Chan Hing Kai, Yip Tin-Shing, and To's Milkyway Creative Team) remains largely intact. In both films, hard-bitten cops chase cold-blooded crooks into a huge tenement project, precipitating a hostage situation during which both sides try to manipulate how the media presents the story. But what seemed coolly clinical in To's Hong Kong comes off as blustering and maudlin in Moscow.

A botched stakeout in the Chertanovo district of Moscow results in a prolonged shootout between undercover cops led by Smirnov (Andrei Merzlikin) and a tight-knit, heavily armed gang of robbers fronted by Herman (Evgeni Tsyganov). Broadcast live on television, the bloodbath threatens to further undermine the reputation of the police, especially when a cowardly traffic cop surrenders on camera.

The crooks take refuge in a decaying apartment complex, pursued by the undercover cops. Nursing an ulcer, Smirnov is only interested in capturing his prey, by the rules or not. For Katya Verbitskaya (Mariya Mashkova), a public-relations director for the police, the ensuing standoff is an opportunity to test her theories about reality TV.

With the help of an advertising director (played by producer and co-writer Sam Klebanov), she fashions a news piece about heroic cops cornering the villains, cut with flashy effects and tied to a pounding score. But the crooks use the Internet and cell phones to broadcast their own version of what happened, competing with Katya in the court of public opinion.

At its best, "Newsmakers" bounces from one conflicting point-of-view to another -- five in all, thanks to some late-breaking plot twists. Director Anders Banke, a veteran of music videos and commercials, dresses up the story with visual gimmicks like split-screens and digital effects, providing surface dazzle at the expense of focus and logic.

Despite his efforts, too much of "Newsmakers" is down time. Characters talk at length about the morality of reality TV, pending retirements, even disciplining youth through education. When the violence finally does erupt, it's loud and frantic, but also scattershot and unsatisfying.

Chalk up some of the changes from the original film to cultural differences. In Hong Kong, the criminals look like businessmen who address their jobs with corporate calm. In Moscow, they are bodybuilders and psychopaths who share a death wish. Instead of withdrawing to his office, the Moscow chief goes on-site, the better to relieve his protege if she falters -- a likely prospect, given Katya's slit skirt and stiletto heels.

"Newsmakers" spells out what To and his crew only insinuated, with results that seem clumsy and tone-deaf. Stick with the original -- or wait for the American remake promised by Gold Circle Films.

Production companies: Tandem Pictures, in co-production with Illusion Film, Film i Vast, Maywin Media. Co-financed by The Swedish Film Institute, in association with Media Asia Distribution
Cast: Andrei Merzlikin, Evgeni Tsyganov, Mariya Mashkova, Sergey Garmash, Maksim Konovalov, Tillstrom, Alexei Frandetti, Pavel Klimov, Sergei Vesnin, Artyom Semakin, Viktor Chepelov, David Stepanyan, Oleg Chernigov.
Director: Anders Banke
Screenwriters: Sam Klebanov, Aleksandr Lungin
Based on the film by: Johnnie To
Producers: Sam Klebanov, Anna Katchko
Director of photography: Chris Maris
Production designer: Grigori Pushkin
Music: Anthony Lledo
Costume designer: Tatiana Vdovina
Editor: Fredrik Mordheden
Sales: Cinemavault Releasing
No MPAA rated, 110 minutes
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