Dir: Dzhanik Faiziyev.Russ. 2005. 132mins.

The new epic-scaleRussian detective yarn set during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, TurkishGambit grossed $6.1m in its opening weekend, eclisping the success offantasy feature Night Watch. But despite such hallmarks of world-classshowmanship as Indiana Jones-style action, creative Amelie-like visualeffects and unique subject matter, Dzhanik Faiziyev's , $3.5m feature isultimately an uneven mix of genres with poorly-defined characters and limitedappeal beyond Eastern Europe.

Released wide in Russia,Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine in late February, Turkish Gambit grossedover $12.4m from these territories from just 15 days release. It currently alsoholds a post-Soviet record for the widest release for any film, foreign orhomegrown - 364 prints, as opposed to Night Watch's 300 and previousrecord holder Alexander on 348 prints.

Outside of Russia and theCIS, the film might enjoy modest success in Eastern Europe, particularly in theBalkans, where educated audiences could empathise with the film's historicalconcerns. It may make some waves at select festivals (slots at Karlovy Vary andCannes seem assured), but is unlikely to be much of a draw outside of Centraland Eastern Europe.

It should, however, do wellin limited release in certain western European countries with highlycinema-literate populations and large Russian diasporas such as France andGermany. The presence of foreign actors like Polish star Daniel Olbrychski andFrench songwriter and actor Didier Bienaime (who died last year) should alsohelp.

With Russia currently in apolitically and economically dubious state, audiences seem desperately in needof a hero from its 19th-century heyday. He comes in the form of Erast PetrovichFandorin (Beroyev), a Czarist-era secret agent.

Young, highly intelligent,but with a stuttering impediment mitigating his social integration, Fandorin isthe lonesome, introverted protagonist of Akunin's cycle of books that detailhis adventures investigating 19th-century political intrigues. Here Fandorinhas to uncover a Turkish mole in the Russian forces that is quite literallytelegraphing the moves of the Russian army to defeat after crushing defeat.

TV director DzhanikFaiziyev's cinematic debut is a highly ambitious undertaking with mixedresults. Separate elements of the filmare skilfully accomplished but do not hang together as a whole: rather theuneasy melange of action, suspense, comic relief and hint of romantic interestresult in a little of everything and not enough of anything: lack ofcharacterisation does not help.

Rising star Yegor Beroyev -who put himself on the map with Vladimir Mashkov's Papa - was cast in the lead following a lengthy process.

Here he displays a wholesomeleading man appeal lacking in most current Russian male stars, who tend to behighly idiosyncratic and possessed of negative charm.

At his most extrovert heresembles a youthful Banderas yet his performance is remarkably controlled,displaying the right amount of required reserve to move the story along whilebuilding up his character's sense of mystery.

A perfect foil to comes inOlga Krasko's spirited portrayal of Varvara Suvorova, a headstrong young womanwho proves she can ride and shoot with the best of the soldiers. She becomesFandorin's sidekick and helps him to unravel the Turkish plot.

The supporting players,almost all of whom play Russian officers, are all recognisable faces from thecurrent crop of Russian film and TV productions.

Andrei Zhegalov's scopecinematography isn't that distinguished, with a soupy, slightly grainy qualityand not-quite-so-seamless integration with the computer animation, glossed oversomewhat by rapid movement within the frame.

Goran Bregovic'sappropriately Balkan-tinged score is spare, minimalist and accented with suchlocal touches as female Bulgarian folk singing.

Internationally knownRussian thespian and long-time Mikhalkov associate Oleg Menshikov (Burnt ByThe Sun, The Barber Of Siberia) had originally been tapped for the role ofFandorin, but was widely regarded by literati and the moviegoing public asbeing too old. He will, however, portray a mature Fandorin in the newproduction from Pervy Kanal, State Councillor, which is to be released both asa two-hour theatrical film and a TV mini-series.

Prod cos: Pervy Kanal, Russian State Television Channel One,Tri-Te Studio
Int'l sales:
Gemini Film Int'l
Russ dist:
Gemini Film
Exec prod:
Leonid Vereshagin
Konstantin Ernst, AnatolyMaximov
Boris Akunin from his ownnovel
Andrei Zhegalov
Enzo Meniconi
Prod des:
Vladimir Svetozarov
Goran Bregovic
Main cast:
Yegor Beroyev, OlgaKrasko, Alexander Lykov, Marat Basharov, Vladimir Ilyin, Dmitry Pevstsov,Alexander Baluyev, Yuri Kutsenko