There are EIGHT credited screenwriters for “Major Grom: Plague Doctor.” You know what they call that in Mother Russia and its satellite state of Kentucky?
Imagine a “Batman” in which Alfred the Butler is the real caped “crusader,” a masked vigilante fighting the injustice of a corrupt city. Tell that creep’s story from the point of view of the rebel cop, Major Grom, hunting this “villain/hero,” a gadget-loving goon who calls himself “The Plague Doctor,” and you’ve got this two hour and twenty minute goulash of an action comedy.
It’s not credited as a comic book on the disastrously-redesigned IMdb, and I didn’t see Netflix acknowledge that either. But it is. You can tell, and not just from the title, which ineptly suggests the titular “hero” is both Major Grom AND the Plague Doctor.
No. Major Grom is the recurring character and hero. The Plague Doctor is his latest toughest foe. Better translation of title? “Major Grom vs. The Plague Doctor.”
It’s an over-the-top bore about an over-the-top /no-rules cop (Tikhon Zhiznevskiy) who chases down clown-masked bank robbers on foot — they’re in a van, spilling rubles all over St. Petersburg. He almost dies — we think he has — in that opening caper. But inside the coffin or out, he’s got a job to do.
Because SOMEbody is killing off Russia’s legions of unreachable, politically-protected villains — a callously drunken son of an oligarch, a fatcat polluter, rich and corrupt this, rich and venal that. Yes, to the West, THAT guy sounds like the hero.
The Plague Doctor (Dmitriy Chebotarev) posts his executions online on this new, free-speech and privacy-protecting social media site. The twist? He’s the deranged, self-righteous underling of the tech genius (Sergei Goroshko) who founded that social media network. And tech mogul is threatened into silence by that murderous, vigilante underling.
Major Grom has to fend off firing threats by his commissar-sized boss (Aleksey Maklakov), the clinging “trainee” (Alexander Seteykin) who insists “We’re PARTNERS,” and the social justice warrior and rebel online reporter Yulia (Lyubov Aksyonova) whose scoops are making the inept, trigger-happy cops look bad.
The funniest bits are in the police station itself, a milieu where factoids like “one in five people in detention are here by mistake” and one suspect complains (in Russian with English subtitles, or dubbed, “Seriously officer, we don’t go to jail for domestic violence in Russia!”
The script is otherwise just nonsense-in-motion. The set-pieces are noisy, messy deployments of Bugs Bunny Physics that aren’t the most exciting or visually coherent chases/fights I’ve ever seen. The best of those is a clever montage of Grom kicking down doors all over town in an “I need INFORMATION” fury.
“Who ARE you, a superhero?”
No, just a comic book one. And afairky bland one at that. He is Riggs in “Lethal Weapon” with a cute cap and no edge. None.
In abler hands, this vigilante “Doc” could have been that rarest of creatures, the villain with a sympathetic point of view. Magneto in Russian, avenging himself on a kleptocracy and the Gremlin in the Kremlin who rules it.
But no. Again, eight screenwriters, plus the actor weighing in.
Perhaps the Russians should stick to that which their cinema is famous for — brooding romances, laments for the long lost glories of communism, and fake viral videos. This comic book adaptation thing evades them.
MPA Rating: TV-14
Cast: Tikhon Zhiznevskiy, Alexander Seteykin, Sergei Goroshko, Aleksey Maklakov and Dmitriy Chebotarev
Credits: Directed by Oleg Trofim, script by Vladimir Besedin, Evgeny Eronin, Artyom Gabrelyanov, Aleksandr Kim, Roman Kotkov, Nikolay Titov, Oleg Trofim and Valentina Tronova. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:16