Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Comedy culture clash with the Russians in Philip Rosenthal's EXPORTING RAYMOND

Having given up on television decades ago, I've only recently come to the TV sit-com Everybody Loves Raymond (via TV Land reruns that my partner watches now and again). I admit it's a pretty funny show. Consequently I was primed to see the new documentary EXPORTING RAYMOND, in which the show's creator (and sometimes producer, director, writer and actor) Philip Rosenthal has the chance to oversee a recreation of his long-running hit sit-com in Russia. What an opportunity for, well, just about anything and everything you might imagine -- beginning with culture clash and ending with narcissistic ego-fondling. Or maybe that order should be reversed.

This opportunity is also the chance for Sony, who evidently owns the show, to make a ton of money off licensing rights, or so everyone hopes. Since a similar thing happened with a U.S.-to-Russia translation of The Nanny, why not with Raymond? So off to Russia Mr. Rosenthal (shown at left and below, left) goes, followed at all times by his filming crew -- a situation that is immediately suspect so far as I am concerned because it means that everyone, always, is somehow playing to the camera and that, whatever else might happen, they are determined to get a movie out of this.

They do. But it isn't much of one. A quote on the film's poster explains that one particular critic "cannot remember an audience laughing so loudly or so often." I can only say that at the screening I attended, I heard only a couple of mild guffaws throughout the entire film, and I myself laughed aloud once. The funniest moments come early on, as Rosenthal is asked about obtaining hostage and kidnapping insurance prior to leaving for Russia.  His response is real and wry.

Most of the rest of the film seems somehow "manufactured" to prove that, yes, Everybody Loves Raymond (or The Voronins, as the Russian audience will come to know it), is simply the greatest show ever, and that Mr. Rosenthal is right about literally every single thing he says. Yet, from what we see in front of us, nothing much is working at all: casting, costuming, rehearsals, shooting. Yet, magically (well, isn't this the way that theater, film and television work?), it all comes together in the end.

Detours are taken now and again for family scenes in Russia and America, a meeting with an impressario/Russian acting "great" (to try to get him to allow another actor to perform on the TV show) and a sub-plot involving the health of Rosenthal's Russian limo driver (this may or may not be a ruse). But it's all quite surface-level and finally a little annoying. No real effort is made toward anything except showing us how god-damned wonderful the Raymond property really is. Surprise!  As for those missing guffaws, well, maybe the movie needs a laugh track.

Exporting Raymond, from Samuel Goldwyn Films, opens this Friday, April 29, in New York, Philadelphia, Santa Barbara, Scottsdale, Irvine, Rancho Mirage, and the greater Los Angeles area. Click here for specific theaters.

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