1 star (out of four)
Bad Chekhov sucks the marrow out of you like no other great playwright done badly. Correct me if I'm wrong. It's the price you pay for the rare Chekhov that shimmers on stage or, with "Vanya on 42nd Street," on film.
"The Sisters" isn't just bad Chekhov; it's bad Chekhov modernized and then plunked in front of a camera. Adapted from his own stage play by Richard Alfieri, director Arthur Allan Seidelman's picture airlifts the Chekhovian clan of "Three Sisters" from 19th century provincial Russia to a contemporary Manhattan academic setting. Played by Maria Bello, Mary Stuart Masterson and Erika Christiansen, the sisters pine for their bygone girlhood days spent not in Moscow, but in Charleston, S.C.
Chekhov's basics are there -- everyone's mooning over the wrong person, misdirecting their frustrations and feverish with boredom and heartache -- but instead of anti-melodrama laced with surprising moments of comedy, which Chekhov managed, "The Sisters" settles for bloodless melodrama. Much of the film unfolds in a swank faculty lounge, and by the end of this claustrophobic effort you may feel tenured yourself, and not in a good way. Alfieri hasn't found a distinctive voice for his version of the archetypes, so every line sounds like an awkward translation from the Russian.
Only the soulful Bello, coming off fine work in both "A History of Violence" and "Thank You for Smoking," invests the material with something like real feeling as well as technique. What can be learned from this creaky farrago? Only this: Relocate or update Chekhov very carefully. Otherwise, what happens near Moscow should probably stay near Moscow.
Running time: 1:53. MPAA rating: R (language and some sexual content).Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times