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When talking to a foreigner, the best way to describe the German action film Nick — Off Duty (Tschiller: Off Duty) is quite simple: “Ich bin ein Bourne, Ersatz Bourne.” Local audiences won’t likely notice the flagrant similarities as much, since their point-of-view is influenced by the fact that, though only the first to be released in cinemas, this is already director Christian Alvert and German superstar Til Schweiger’s fifth outing in the Tschiller franchise, which in turn is an offshoot of that miraculously-still-not-extinct dinosaur of German network TV: Tatort.
Here, as the title suggests, Schweiger’s Hamburg police commissioner Nick Tschiller is off work so he’s free to parkour around Moscow and a warm Muslim country, Bourne-style, in search of the criminals that have kidnapped his daughter, Taken-style. Somewhat surprisingly, given its parentage and built-in audience, this flashily color-corrected if otherwise by-the-numbers actioner sank quickly. The first Tschiller TV movie was seen by over 12 million people when it premiered, while the feature’s theatrical box-office stands at a paltry $2.6 million after five weeks. Sales agent Global Screen is now betting on an international version, which will be dubbed in English and also be some 20 minutes shorter than the original’s whopping 140 minutes.
Schweiger’s production company, Barefoot Films, is one of the producers here and Christoph Wahl — the star’s regular cinematographer on the mainstream melodramas (Rabbit Without Ears, Kokowaah) that he also directs and that are his bread and butter — is also on board. This ensures a certain visual coherence with Schweiger’s other films, though Wahl and Alvert have no particular aptitude for either shooting action sequences or instilling a disorienting sense of unease and tension, which is what made Paul Greengrass’ entries in the Bourne franchise the nailbiters that they are.
When Tschiller’s 17-year-old daughter, Lenny (Luna Schweiger, Til’s actual daughter and regular screen partner), is kidnapped from a rickety hotel in Istanbul, what can a tough-cop father do but fly over to rescue her? With the help of his colleague and friend, Yalcin Gumer (Fahri Yardim, another Schweiger regular), Tschiller first locates the whereabouts of his daughter’s hotel via her phone’s signal and then has to rely on his own cunning and/or charms to try and find her. A rooftop chase against the picturesque Istanbul skyline suggests Alvert and screenwriter Christoph Darnstaedt are proud students of the Tangier sequences in The Bourne Ultimatum.
Of course, the generically evil Turkish middlemen are only pawns in the hands of the Russians, who are just as generically evil and who had Lenny shipped to another Ultimatum location, Moscow, for a nefarious plan: allow the film to change scenery from the saturated, sickly green-yellowish heat of the metropolis on the Bosporus to the dark, discolored and cold criminal underground of the Russian capital. Yalcin and Nick follow in hot pursuit and uncover a plan involving — what else? — prostitution and organ trafficking while frequenting a series of bling-bling Moscow nightlife and highlife locations.
Of course, chase-the-bad-guys movies don’t necessarily need to be credible in terms of how they arrive at their action setpieces or in which exotic locales they are set. But the problem with Tschiller is that Alvert and Darnstaedt don’t even seem to try to milk their two (or a serious handful less than Ultimatum) locations for what they’re worth. It’s telling when the most satisfying action scene in a globe-trotting German action film is one involving a deadly combine harvester (yes, really!) that could have just as well taken place in rural Saxony-Anhalt. By connecting the film’s locations to the narrative in either extremely obvious ways — prostitution and organ trafficking in Moscow, really? — or by simply using the foreign backdrops as just that, the film comes off as simultaneously shrill and hopelessly generic. The few instances the pic seems to make inroads into potentially more interesting local subplots, such as when an imprisoned political blogger in Turkey becomes an unseen player, the film’s baser instincts quickly rear their heads and the subplot is subsequently dropped.
Audiences unfamiliar with the previous Tschiller Tatort TV movies will also struggle to connect with Nick, Lenny (short for Leonora) and especially Yalcin, who here is introduced in a bizarre subplot involving a porn shoot that’s more eyebrow-raising than funny. Generally, the film’s attempts at humor are questionable, such as when Lenny is stuck in a Turkish car with an exaggeratedly lecherous taxi driver whose behavior toward the 17-year-old is played for laughs. Other easy targets are fat people and the insinuation of homosexuality, which even a film as tough on the Turkish prison system as 1978’s Midnight Express already knew to steer clear of.
Let’s hope Tschiller quickly reports back for duty … back home.
Production companies: Syrreal Entertainment, Barefoot Films, Nord-Deutscher Rundfunk, Warner Bros. Film Productions Germany
Cast: Til Schweiger, Fahri Yardim, Ozgur Emre Yildirim, Luna Schweiger, Erdal Yildiz, Alyona Konstantinova
Director: Christian Alvert
Screenplay: Christoph Darnstaedt
Producers: Til Schweiger, Tom Zickler, Siegried Kamml, Christian Alvart
Director of photography: Christof Wahl
Production designer: Thomas Freudenthal
Costume designers: Sabine Bockmeyer, Ingken Benesch
Editors: Marc Hofmeister, Dirk Grau
Music: Martin Todsharow
Casting: Suse Marquardt
Sales: Global Screen
Not rated, 140 minutes
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