THE GHOST (DOMOVOY) (director: Karen Oganesyan; screenwriters: Oleg Malovichko/ Sergey Yudakov; cinematographer: Zaur Bolotaev; editor: Karen Oganesyan; music: Insight; cast: Konstantin Khabenskiy (Anton Prachenko), Chulpan Khamatova (Vika), Vladimir Mashkov (Mikhail, Domovoy); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Yuriy Moroz; IFC Films; 2008-Russia-in Russian with English subtitles)

"A sordid psychological thriller, that is supposed to knock the socks off the viewer by comparing a hit man's preparation with a writer exercising the creative process."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Despite high production values and a slick style, the cat-and-mouse thriller by newcomer Armenian-Russian director Karen Oganesyan ("Five Brides") lacks a storyline that's credible. It's written by Oleg Malovichko and Sergey Yudakov as a sordid psychological thriller, that is supposed to knock the socks off the viewer by comparing a hit man's preparation with a writer exercising the creative process.

Anton Prachenko (Konstantin Khabensky) is a Moscow-based crime fiction author of best sellers who is in decline and has developed writer's block. He's also depressed his idiotic hottie girlfriend Vika (Chulpan Khamatova) is leaving him, and he resorts to excessive drinking. The author witnesses from the window of a bookstore, holding a book signing for him, the assassination of two men in a passing car on the rainy street in cold blood by the hit man known as The Ghost, Mikhail (Vladimir Mashkov), who uses a silencer and who just a few moments ago had Anton sign a copy of his book, even though when asked how he liked it said it was "shit." The desperate Anton gets the bright idea The Ghost could be his muse and help him out of his writing funk, after accidentally hooking up with the assassin in the street while walking home from the police station and later not telling the police. Anton is mentored by the Ghost on how to carry out contract killings and invited on a few jobs, which are used in Anton's next novel. The pathetic writer's life gets entangled with the scheming dangerous hit man and he soon loses track of his innocence by unethically joining The Ghost in his contract killings. Since the killings told in his latest work have an authenticity, Anton is once again in the good graces of his editor. But he has become a tortured soul, who is being used by the thug for his own evil purposes and is forced to get into a battle of wills with his diabolical mentor to survive being framed for a murder. How the callow writer ends up chained to a pipe in a remote shack and is about to be torched, seemed a bit over-the-top and hardly believable considering our hero is such an awkward nerd and who would in all probability never get that far into a relationship with such a dangerous thug. The film is less interested in the denouement than in asking the unimportant academic question, if a writer must experience what he writes to make it seem credible? Since the obvious answer is that the writer's best tool is his imagination, the pic derails with a blowsy theme and a contrived plot.

REVIEWED ON 2/18/2013       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"