While killing time waiting for the release of John Wick 3, viewers might be forgiven for mistaking Matthew Ross’ “romantic thriller” Siberia for a fair facsimile of Keanu Reeves’ hardboiled crime series. Or perhaps the pairing of Reeves with contemporary Molly Ringwald as alienated spouses sounds like too good an opportunity to miss, but since they appear in only two scenes together (one of them an online video chat), well, wrong again.
Instead, Ross serves up a fatalistic romance framed by a pointedly obscure heist plot that struggles to gain momentum before finally sputtering out. Stiffly scripted and stoically directed, Siberia shamelessly squanders the particular appeal of its charismatic lead and wastes an inordinate amount of screen time going practically nowhere, except undoubtedly right to VOD.
Selling rare diamonds to Russian gangsters probably isn’t the safest segment of the high-end industry, although gem dealer Lucas Hill (Reeves) seems resigned to the inevitable risks of the black market trade. He gets caught off-guard, however, on arriving in St. Petersburg to find that his Russian partner Pyotr (Boris Gulyarin) has gone missing. Showing up empty-handed at a meeting with local crime boss Boris Volkov (Pasha D. Lychnikoff), he gingerly negotiates a two-day deadline extension to secure the samples of blue diamonds that Pyotr previously promised in a $50 million deal. Before you can vocalize the thought “go home now,” Hill tracks his partner to the Siberian city of Mirny, chartering a private jet to the remote gem-mining outpost in hopes of locating Pyotr and recovering the missing samples.
This being the off-season, it seems like Pyotr wouldn’t be that hard to locate, but Mirny is one of those dark little towns with lots of secrets, or something to that effect. What becomes clear, however, is that some residents don’t like outsiders, after two locals rough up Hill when he defends the virtue of local cafe owner Katya (Ana Ularu). Apparently she’s not as hostile as her neighbors, taking him home to recover and moving him to bed her the next day. Hill initially demurs, however, since he has diamonds to locate and gangsters to appease. That’s not a problem for Katya, who’s happy to tag along back to St. Petersburg where their relationship can get super-steamy as Hill attempts the delicate task of negotiating with Volkov.
Some of this nonsense almost succeeds just on the basis of Reeves’ ability to speak some passable Russian at key moments, although not so much during the numerous love scenes with Ularu, who does a decent job of playing an incongruously English-speaking Siberian. The sense lingers, however, that if screenwriter Scott B. Smith (who also scripted the far superior A Simple Plan) had let Reeves dictate the terms of the plot himself it would have turned out at least somewhat more involving.
As it is, he’s left to drift through a miasma of existential angst on his search for Pyotr and the missing diamonds, inching toward some undoubtedly fatalistic resolution. Lychnikoff’s over-the-top Volkov periodically provides a modicum of comic relief, although not much of a credible threat as the clocks ticks down on the promised diamond delivery date.
Ross (Frank & Lola) hems them all in with restrained camerawork, too-cool lighting and ponderous pacing, determined to make us feel every moment of Hill’s mental and physical pain, but is it worth it?
Distributor: Saban Films
Production companies: Saban Films, Mars Town, Elevated Films, The Fyzz Facility, Globus Film, Unbound Films
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ana Ularu, Pasha D. Lychnikoff, Dmitry Chepovetsky, James Gracie, Eugene Lipinski, Rafael Petardi, Veronica Ferres, Molly Ringwald, Boris Gulyarin
Director: Matthew Ross
Screenwriters: Scott B. Smith
Producers: Stephen Hamel, Keanu Reeves, Gabriela Bacher, Braden Aftergood, David Hansen
Executive producers: Cassian Elwes, Christian Angermayer, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Ness Saban, Shanan Becker, Christian Angermayer, Klemens Hallmann, Marc Hansell, Christopher Lemole, Tim Zajaros, William B. Bromiley, Robert Jones, Phyllis Laing, Devan Towers, Jere R. Hausfater, Jeff Beesley
Director of photography: Eric Koretz
Production designer: Jean-Andre Carriere
Costume designer: Patti Henderson
Editor: Louise Ford
Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Rated R, 104 minutes