Judge Paul Pritchard enjoyed this quirky comedy from start to Finnish.
A comedy about a place where the sun never shines.
In its native Finland, Lapland Odyssey is kind of a big deal. Coming from the country's most revered director and the "savior of Finnish cinema," Dome Karukoski, the film beat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 at the Finnish box office. Can success in its own backyard translate to greater international recognition now that it is being released on DVD Stateside? Err, probably not.
Facts of the Case
When his long-suffering girlfriend, Inari (Pamela Tola), finally loses patience with him, Janne (Jussi Vatanen) finds himself facing the breakdown of their relationship. Inari gives Janne one final ultimatum: buy the digibox she has been asking him for (so that she can watch Titanic on TV) by 9 a.m. the next morning, or she will pack her bags and leave him for good. What should be a simple enough task is complicated by the fact that it is Friday night, and the one electrical store in their small town has already closed. Undeterred, Janne enlists his drinking buddies, Räihänen (Timo Lavikainen) and Kapu (Jasper Päkk&önen), to aid him in his mission. Heading out into the night, the three friends must overcome naked Russian gangsters, devious ex-boyfriends, and an all-female underwater rugby team if Janne is to succeed.
Lapland Odyssey is a film that is impossible to hate; yet despite its engaging ensemble, lighthearted humor, and an undeniable warmth, it is not a film I can say I loved. I cannot deny that I enjoyed the film for the entirety of its 92-minute running time, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for an undemanding comedy. Still, this is a film where the sum is less than its individual parts, and so the overwhelming feeling after viewing it is one of frustration.
The cast is note-perfect. Leading man Jussi Vatanen delivers a performance that ensures the viewer is always on his side, even when his actions are less than admirable. The script dictates that the character of Janne is really nothing more than a slacker, so inept that the final straw for his girlfriend comes when he fails to purchase the PVR she had given him money for—but if he's a slacker, he's a slacker with a heart. When he sets off on his mission to save his relationship, we are fully behind him.
Janne's drinking buddies, who join him on his quest, are also an amiable enough duo. Räihänen (Timo Lavikainen) spends most of his time playing an erotically tinged videogame, in which the completion of each level is rewarded with a picture of a naked woman. Kapu (Jasper Päkk&önen) is more of thinker with a darker outlook on life; in one brilliant scene he paints a bleak picture of a future relationship to a girl who made the mistake of asking him to dance. Their misadventures, which include them falling afoul of a women's underwater rugby team and running into Janne's girlfriend's devious ex-boyfriend, are never hysterically funny, but certainly good for a chuckle. This is one of the main reasons why Lapland Odyssey is so frustrating: it lacks a unique voice. Excepting for the fact that this is a Finnish production, there is nothing here you haven't seen in everything from Road Trip to American Pie 2. The fact that these characters are so likeable, thanks in no small part to them having an overriding sense of right and wrong, means that sitting through the film never feels like a chore, but it's never truly a delight either. Decades of similarly themed movies mean that we are already in tune with the likes of Lapland Odyssey from the moment the DVD enters the player, and so we are robbed of any hope of being surprised. To truly stand out, films like this need to either be exceptionally funny, or offer something we have never seen before. Sadly, Lapland Odyssey offers neither, so for many, one viewing of the film will be enough.
Where Lapland Odyssey bests most of its American peers is in the quality of its production. Director Dome Karukoski and cinematographer Pini Hellstedt capture the natural beauty of Northern Finland in a way that paints it as an almost magical place. The visuals alone are worth the price of the DVD, and would be just as befitting of an intricate drama as they are a raucous comedy such as this. The downside of this, of course, is that you really end up wishing the story was more worthy of such production values.
The DVD release of Lapland Odyssey boasts an excellent 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The picture is razor sharp, with a high level of detail throughout. What impresses most, however, is the depth of color that, coupled with the rich black levels, really brings the image to life. The 5.1 Dolby mix is also a winner, with clear dialogue (in Finnish, of course) complemented by optional English subs.
The only extra included on the DVD is Burungo, a short film by Lapland Odyssey director Dome Karukoski. The film follows a young girl's attempts to buy her mother a new dress in the slums of Nairobi. Burungo tackles some extremely troubling issues, yet still contains moments of undeniable beauty. Perhaps more so than the feature presentation, Burungo shows why Karukoski is so beloved in his homeland. Also included in the DVD case is a six-page booklet that includes an introduction to the film and a director's Q&A.
Lapland Odyssey opens with an amusing monologue about the suicide rate in the small Finnish town in which the story is set. So well told is this piece that it raises expectations far too high for what actually follows. Though this failure to really capitalize on such a strong opening is a disappointment, Lapland Odyssey is still a movie worthy of your time. The feeling that Karukoski and his crew could have (and perhaps should have) crafted a superior film may leave a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, but if easy going entertainment is what you're after, this could very well be your film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Artsploitation Films
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