Russia’s hooligan set will have a new Friday-night post-pub favourite with this martial arts film, modelled on Gareth Evans’s The Raid. In a literal hostile takeover, former Spetsnaz sniper Nikita (Ivan Kotik) leads a squad of tracksuited casuals into a vodka factory/mafia front on behalf of a shady businessmen (Ilya Antonenko) looking to seize it – but he also has a personal beef with the owner.
For reasons half-explained, the squad are forbidden from carrying guns, and the chief heavy (played by real-life MMA fighter Vladimir Mineev) chafes against Nikita’s command from the off. They work their way up through the factory’s security to the C-suite, with much fisticuffs, mostly in the fashionable MMA style – with heavy emphasis on grappling and backhanded slaps that look prissy but probably aren’t. The standout is a corridor-hemmed brawl against three juggernauts wielding a host of medieval weaponry, with director Denis Kryuchkov often keeping us locked in with the combatants with swaying, reeling Steadicam.
But introducing firearms halfway through, when the factory’s true owners enter the fray, works to somehow lower the stakes. As more parties become involved, the already poorly defined relationships between the characters become get more confusing – including what white-suited secretary (Sofya Ozerova) is doing there other than providing openings for misogynistic jeopardy. (She’s given an empowering assault rifle later.)
The initial tone of impish mayhem shifts into something grim and rote, ill-serving frontman Kotik. Interestingly lithe, aloof and not overly macho, he has obvious star chops – breaking out in some fights into footwork drawn from the Russian folk dancing he does in one childhood flashback. “Balletic” used to be the adjective of choice for John Woo’s action films, and Kotik is clearly primed to deliver this in material that is more than this steroid party.
• Russian Raid is released on 22 March on digital platforms.