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Russian Doll Reviews

An Australian romantic comedy that lurches queasily between ghastly broad gags and oddly engaging, character-driven laughs born of clashing cultures and expectations. Mail-order Russian bride Katia (Natalia Novikova) expects to be met at the Sydney airport by the fiancé she met online. When he doesn't show, she gamely makes her way to his home, only to find him dead. Weeping on the curb, she attracts the attention of compassionate Ethan (David Wenham), who's so moved by her plight — or is he moved by her cleavage-baring top, sky-high hair and thigh-high skirt? — that he promptly enters into a passionate affair with her, despite the inconvenient fact of his long and apparently happy marriage to Miriam (Rebecca Frith). Ethan's dilemma: He must stash Katia somewhere without alerting Miriam, and figure out a long-term plan to keep her in the country. So Ethan turns to his morose friend Harvey (Hugo Weaving), a hangdog, hard-drinking private detective who's in a monumental funk, having just discovered his own fiancée in no-tell hotel with her college professor. Ethan pays Harvey first to board the vivacious Katia in his apartment, and then to marry her so she can remain in Australia, setting up a standard-issue romantic comedy triangle that doesn't play itself out quite so obviously as one might expect. Casting is all in such improbably scenarios, and Weaving is a huge liability. Unquestionably a fine actor, he's not a natural comic; the scenes in which he's called on to stammer and blunder through the usual silly misunderstandings and pratfalls are just plain painful. Newcomer Novikova, by contrast, is a blast of high-voltage energy — sexy, impulsive, willful and utterly engaging. Director and co-writer Stavros Kazantzidis adds cross-cultural color by making Katia Jewish; much of the film's third act is driven by her desire to honor her late mother's wish that she get married in a lavish, traditional Jewish ceremony. Sacha Horler contributes a sharp turn as Katia's earthy, calculating friend Liza.