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DVD Review: Boris and Natasha

A 1992 comedy film which features the two bad guys from Rocky & Bullwinkle, but not Rocky and Bullwinkle…?

Hm… I’m not exactly sure where to begin with this one. The MGM Limited Edition Collection, that wonderful print-on-demand service which gives bare-bones DVD treatment to obscure and previously-only-avaible-on-VHS movies, has now unearthed Boris and Natasha, a 1992 comedy film which features the two bad guys from Rocky & Bullwinkle, but not Rocky and Bullwinkle. This is not to be compared to 2000’s Kenneth Lonergan-scripted The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle. That film was actually fun and effervescent and captured a lot of the manic appeal and cosmopolitan slapstick of the original show from the early 1960s. This one is… well, I don’t rightly know. It feels like a broad, safe, gentle echo of The Naked Gun, but clearly pushed through a studio machine. Few of the jokes are funny, but none of them are offensive. You’ll feel crushed into your seat not by horrors, but by sheer mediocrity. Then you’ll learn over the closing credits that Sally Kellerman, who plays Natasha in the film, also sings the film’s annoyingly peppy Huey Lewis-like theme song, and you’ll get the idea that this was some kind of buggy vanity project. Kellerman, by the way, was also the executive producer.

Either the studio didn’t have the money to animate Rocky and Bullwinkle into the movie, or they didn’t have the rights to the characters. As such, our heroes are Boris (Dave Thomas) and Natasha (Kellerman), and we have to follow them and their bad Russian accents – excuse me: Pottsylvanian accents – for nearly 90 minutes of film. The story is a surprisingly complicated affair that has Fearless Leader (Christopher Neame) sending our nogoodniks to America posing as defectors, but who are, in actuality, looking for a Russian arms dealer (John Candy, dude!), who will in turn lead them to a mysterious assassin who will, in another turn, lead them to a mad scientist who has invented a computer chip that can reverse time. Along the way, Natasha’s communist idyll will be interrupted by the allure of good ol’ American capitalism, and she’ll become the toast of New York (played by Los Angeles). A huge portion of the film is devoted to dress montages. José Eber appears as himself. And there’s a cameo by John Travolta, also playing himself. For seriously. This was two years before the grand Travolta comeback with Pulp Fiction, and eight years before his next fall with Battlefield Earth. Oh yes, and one of their contacts is played by Anthony Newley, in his final film role (although he did do TV up until the end). And June Foray makes a cameo, and she does her Natasha voice, and it’s awesome. Also appearing: Sid Haig.

Oh wait: I think Rocky and Bullwinkle are in the movie. Boris and Natasha, living as typical yuppies, meet their yuppie neighbors (Andrea Martin and John Calvin) who will turn out to be secret CIA agents named Moose and Squirrel, and who have been surgically altered. I can’t tell if that’s a cheap joke, or a baffling attempt at continuity.

None of the jokes really work. I kind of giggled at the scene where Boris, bored, blew up model trains with tiny kegs of dynamite, I suppose. Boris and Natasha seems to rotate among three notes: It’s either baffling, mediocre, or kind of insufferable. But never, perhaps to the film’s credit, all three at once. The baffling bits got me through. The film was directed by Charles Martin Smith, star of Never Cry Wolf, and the director of Air Bud and Dolphin Tale. I’ll say this: The man is efficient.