Dreadfully unfunny and surprisingly violent, “The Death of Stalin” is a huge historical misfire. I love political satire as much as anyone, but this film is insufferable with its back-slapping, elitist brand of supposed “humor.”
The film, directed and co-written by the oft-lauded Armando Iannucci (the writing brain behind the admittedly wonderful and snarky 2009 film “In the Loop” and the HBO series “Veep”), is set in Moscow in 1953 and follows the Soviet dictator’s last days, depicting the chaos of the regime after his death. While the bedlam brought about by the general incompetence of the power-hungry can be hilarious, here it isn’t. All attempts at irony, sarcasm, satire, and yes, even basic slapstick, fail miserably. The one-liners are sometimes mean and oftentimes not amusing, the wicked irreverence proving to be a distracting stumbling block.
The cast is inspired and the performances good enough, but nobody really is a standout. There’s bumbling Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov and Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, and apparently we’re all supposed to find it uproariously hilarious that neither man speaks with a Russian accent. (If that is your idea of a great joke, then have at it).
This film fails as a farce, fails as a comedy, and fails as an enjoyable film. With such an esteemed pedigree behind the project, I’m shocked at how bad this actually is.