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***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** This review has some minor SPOILERS in it.
Greydon Clark is not known for making fine cinema. Indeed, any fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 knows his name: he made the infamous `Hobgoblins' and `Final Justice.' The first things I think of when I hear his name are lousy alien movies, like `Without Warning' and `The Return.' My expectations for `Russian Roulette' were thus pretty low. But what we have in this movie is not a bad science fiction mess but a genuinely good little low budget thriller.
Low budget is not really the right phrase. More like no budget. Filmed in St. Petersburg, Clark uses as many locations as he can find to make sure we remember this is Russia and not some Hollywood set. And the setting works well to create a dark, mysterious atmosphere. The plot is about American algebra teacher Susan Dennison (Susan Blakely), visiting Russia for a vacation. She's with a little American tour group that consists of an elderly couple, The Meadows(E.G. Marshall, Bunny Summers), and a bickering Texan couple, The Hollys (Jeff Altman, Joyce Phillips). Susan meets another American, the charming Grant Ames (Barry Bostwick) whom she invites to join their group. Not long after, something makes her suspicious about Ames, and she investigates his luggage to find he is not who he says he is. He catches her snooping and confesses that he is an American spy trying to prevent both The Meadows and a hitman for the Russia mafia from locating a lost artifact, a medallion once owned by Czar Nicholas II. The medallion means a lot to different factions of Russia and is worth over two million dollars to boot. Susan agrees to help Ames spy on The Meadows, and in the course of doing so she and the spy fall in love. When The Meadows figure out where the medallion is, bodies begin to pile up.
To say more on the plot would be to give away the many twists and turns Clark throws out at us. To my surprise, all the twists and turns work. Blakely is a very good protagonist, not doing the usual stupid things a character like hers does in thrillers like these. Bostwick is suave, funny, and dark at the same time. Marshall, Summers, Altman, and Phillips are all pretty funny, too; particularly Altman, who never is short on good jokes. The tension works great. Whenever the one-handed hitman is on screen, chasing Blakely, its creepy. And the end scene is pulled off perfectly in the dark dungeon of Peter the Great's castle. This is great thriller filmmaking and I wish Clark would make more like it. Zantara's score: 8 out of 10.
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