Aki Kaurismaki’s numbingly unfunny sequel to his 1989 cult success, “Leningrad Cowboys Go America,” is a major disappointment. Those who responded to the quirky humor and offbeat characters of the first film may come back for more but are unlikely to have a very good time, while newcomers to the Finnish franchise will wonder what on earth made the Cowboys fun in the first place.
The problem lies not only in the fact that, inevitably, the freshness and originality of the basic joke are missing here (these lousy musicians with their strange hair and long, pointy shoes are no longer funny in themselves); it’s also that Kaurismaki’s script, which is basically a road movie starting in Mexico and ending in Siberia, needed a whole lot more work.
Pic starts promisingly with an amusing title card that fills in what happened to the Cowboys (“the worst rock ‘n’ roll band in the world”) since the first film. They’ve been in Mexico, and even made it to the Top 10 there, until affected by “a snake in paradise — tequila,” which apparently killed most of them.
The survivors, who have “gone Mexican” and are reduced to cooking cactus for food, decide to go north for a gig in Coney Island, where they meet their long-lost and still sneaky manager, Vladimir (Matti Pellonpaa), who now claims to be Moses and vows to lead them home to Siberia, “the Promised Land.”
Kaurismaki’s celebrated deadpan humor is just dead this time around; scene after scene plays utterly flat. The one great gag, a perfectly timed “walk on water” joke, only shows what might have been.
The music doesn’t keep things bubbling, either, because most of it’s also pretty bad. The brightest musical interlude has a femme singer join the band for a sweet rendition of “Rivers of Babylon”; industry insiders may recognize her as Kirsi Tykkylainen, longtime rep of the Finnish Film Foundation.
Production values are high, with excellent on-the-road location camera work and sound. The actors do their best with their familiar and routine assignments, though there are no amusing guest appearances as there were in the first film.
Kaurismaki reportedly will have another film ready in time for Cannes, and his fans can hope that the next one will turn out better than this.