Chekhov, like Shakespeare or Eugene O’Neill, is one of those dramatists whose works are hard to screw up if you stick to the basics. Arthur Allan Seidelman’s film isn’t a strict Chekhovian adaptation; rather, it’s based on playwright Richard Alfieri’s mostly faithful update of The Three Sisters, which follows a trio of suffering siblings (Bello, Masterson and Christensen) at a university. But those familiar with the source material—whether in the original-recipe form or Alfieri’s extra-crispy version—know the rich characters and well-drawn conflicts practically guarantee proverbial tears and roses. Throw in a supporting cast with solid track records—Rip Torn, Eric McCormack, Tony Goldwyn, Alessandro Nivola—and you can’t go wrong, right?
If The Sisters proves anything, it’s that great ingredients and a well-equipped kitchen don’t mean squat if you’re dealing with a lousy cook. Seidelman’s spotty rsum includes so-so TV shows and the Arnold Schwarzenegger--meets--Arnold Stang disaster Hercules in New York (1970), but surely the veteran director knows the difference between acting for the camera and for the stage. Everyone is forced to read their lines in a hyperemotive, over-e-nun-ciated manner pitched to some imaginary theater’s back row; the stilted banter is reminiscent of both a bad script reading and a good detergent commercial. Only Bello manages to convey moments of depth and emotional resonance, but even her performance is undone by piss-poor pacing and rough handling. (Opens Fri; Village East.)—David Fear