2-1/2 stars (out of 4)
If Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear can be conjoined twins in "Stuck on You," then perhaps it's not so strange for mismatched Tim Blake Nelson and David Arquette to be cast as farm boy brothers in "A Foreign Affair."
In this idiosyncratic indie drama-comedy, Nelson ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") finally gets to play the alpha male as Jake, the oldest brother in a family farm who must take control of the estate and his needy fraternal foil Josh (Arquette) after the sudden death of their abrasive mother.
Tired of eating out of cans and living in squalor, they hire a maid--who abruptly tells them to get wives after handling their nasty laundry. To Jake, it doesn't sound like a bad idea.
Responding to an ad for loveme.com (a real matchmaker Web site), Jake books himself and his brother on a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, for a "love tour"--real life arrangements in which American men meet, woo and marry Russian women. Jake and Josh aren't looking for love, just two years of home-cooked meals and housekeeping in exchange for helping the women get green cards.
Walking the hairline fracture between comedy and drama, the earnest but imperfect "A Foreign Affair" benefits greatly from Nelson's portrayal as a black-is-black, white-is-white rural dweller. We sympathize with him and unstable Josh, who at first threatens to kill himself if Jake leaves him alone on the farm.
First time director Helmut Schleppi often shoots the brothers in reflection off their mother's urn (which they cart to Russia), as if they were still under her watchful eye. Her "presence" doesn't stop Josh, however, from becoming a social butterfly, leaving Jake to do the hard target search. Jake, of course, gets sidetracked by Angela (Emily Mortimer), a journalist doing a story on loveme.com's tour-de-matrimony.
Though Schleppi has artistic ambitions, he tends to overreach. "A Foreign Affair" often slows down when the director gets in the way of the story, as he inserts odd musical cues and employs slow motion in ways not even John Woo would attempt. What's the emotional impact of watching Arquette get gussied up in front of a bathroom mirror in slo-mo?
"Reality" footage also gums up the proceedings, as Schleppi shoehorns in interviews from real "love tour" participants. Nelson (who shares executive producer credits with Arquette) appears early in one of these on-camera interviews, employing a dated movie trope used in "When Harry Met Sally" and "sex, lies and videotape."
But Nelson adds some gravity to the story, grounding it with no attempt to lampoon his character. The St. Petersburg location is an asset of the spirited indie film that could be improved by a gifted editor. As is, "A Foreign Affair's" flaws make it even more of an enigma, as graceless as it is endearing.
"A Foreign Affair"
Directed by Helmut Schleppi; screenplay by Geert Heetebrij; photographed by M. David Mullen and Schleppi; music by Todd Holden Capps; edited by Hans Van Riet; produced by Black & White Films. A Innovation Film Group and Zenpix release; opens Friday, June 18. Running time: 1:34. MPAA rating: PG-13 (some sexual references).
Jake Adams - Tim Blake Nelson
Josh Adams - David Arquette
Angela Beck - Emily Mortimer
Tour Guide Ken - Larry Pine
Librarian - Allyce Beasley
Ma - Lois Smith