One of the pleasures of long-haul flights is getting to mainline a bunch of movies that you wouldn’t otherwise stand a whelk’s chance of watching. Which is how, somewhere two miles above Novosibirsk, I found myself watching The Treasure of Lake Kaban, a completely bonkers movie set in Tatarstan.
The poster says it all, from the Lara Croft rip-off and the aspirant Bond, all the way to the irritating little dog. Ivan the Terrible scowls at the left – it is he, in flashback, who attacks Tatarstan’s capital, Kazan, causing the beautiful princess Soyembika to bury her greatest treasure in a secret location. Meanwhile, over on the right is an “American” carpet-bagger called, wait for it, Diana Jones.
The tagline shrugs: “Nyet vremeni obyasnyat” (There’s no time to explain). And apparently there isn’t, as a frustrated army doctor-turned-archaeologist, a nutjob who thinks he’s an alien, and a Russian navy conscript trying to find enough cash to buy out his commission, all converge on the small republic, where local colour amounts to a whole bunch of relics of Russian’s Mongol marchland – dances, cossacks, daggers, and most memorably in the gene pool, if the smouldering Elvira Ibragimova (that’s her in the shorts) is anything to go by.
The script, by Georgiy Kirvalidze and Dimitriy Terekhov, is based on ideas by three others – although there is such antic chaos in the movie that one might be forgiven that three completely different films were being made at once. There are allusions to many tourist sites in Kazan, and local legends such as the Zilat, the region’s own variant of the Loch Ness monster.
Played straight, there would have been plenty of majesty and scenery here to out-Dan Brown Dan Brown. But The Treasure of Lake Kaban plumps for madcap “comedy”, all pratfalls and kicks in the goolies, as wannabe rock star Kiril (Alex Sparrow, who is apparently something big in Russian X Factor) gurns and mugs his way around a series of monuments and sewers, trying and largely failing not to stare down the cavernous cleavages of his co-stars and nemesis. The result plays as if the Chuckle Brothers have been put in charge of the Da Vinci Code, with all that that implies.
Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of the Silk Road, which doesn’t have any monsters in it, but does have more belly dancing.