Review: ‘Vares – Private Eye’

"Vares -- Private Eye" emerges an entertaining tale that's like a Guy Ritchie flick whose pulse has been lowered by typically dyspeptic Finnish humor and temperament. Helmer Aleski Makela steers a competent middle course between Amerindie-style vicarious thrills and bone-dry drollery of the Aki Kaurismaki ilk.

First pic adapted from a crime novel by popular home-turf author Reijo Mak, “Vares — Private Eye” emerges an entertaining tale that’s like a Guy Ritchie flick whose pulse has been lowered by typically dyspeptic Finnish humor and temperament. Helmer Aleski Makela (dubbed “Finland’s No. 1 action director” after local hits “The Tough Ones” and “Bad Boys”) steers a competent middle course between Amerindie-style vicarious thrills and bone-dry drollery of the Aki Kaurismaki ilk. Feature might have been more memorable had it embraced either style fully, but “Vares” should fare well enough to warrant sequelizing.

First attracted to tough lady sergeant Eeva (Laura Malmivaara) when they’re participating in a military reserve training exercise, grizzled PI Vares (Juha Veijonen) is disappointed to discover she’s a schoolteacher on the verge of marriage. But her situation is not as ordinary as it seems. Fiancee Antero (Jorma Tommila) is behind bars, their wedding a front for his prison escape. Once on the outside, newlyweds go after hidden loot hubby stole from Russian gangsters — who, unfortunately, are also hot on the couple’s trail, along with cops both legit and corrupt.

It emerges Eeva is merely being used by her new hubby — in fact, he’s got a vicious new femme-fatale squeeze (Minna Turunen) eager to ice the no-longer-necessary bride. A still-smitten Vares shows up to rescue Eeva, and they flee to try to find the cash before anyone else.

Plot’s myriad double-crosses and other twists keep things percolating, though direction doesn’t demonstrate much flair for action and violence. Things fare better with the kind of sour character wit summed up when Vares shrugs, “If I can stay off booze for two weeks, I can take on the Russian Mafia.” Particularly amusing amid a strong cast are Pekka Valkeejarvi and Tetsuo Kari Hietalahti as a team of semi-hapless professional hitmen.

Production values are solid, even if “Vares” could have used more distinguishing stylishness all around.

Vares - Private Eye

Finland

Production

A Solar Films production in association with MTV3 Finland and the Finnish Film Foundation. Produced by Marcus Selin. Executive producers, Jukka Helle, Jussi Salonoja. Directed by Aleski Makela. Screenplay, Pekka Lehtosaari, based on the novel "Keltainen Leski" by Reijo Maki.

Crew

Camera (color, Cinemascope), Pini Hellstedt; editor, Kimmo Taavila; music, Kalle Chydenius; production designer, Satva-Hanna Toiviainen; costume designer, Niina Puumalainen; sound (Dolby Digital), Jyrki Rahkonen; casting, Lauri Nurkse. Reviewed at Cinequest, San Jose, March 8, 2005. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Juha Veijonen, Laura Malmivaara, Jari Halonen, Markku Peltola, Jorma Tommila, Minna Turunen, Samuli Edelmann, Pekka Valkeejarvi, Kari Hietalahti, Jasper Paakonen, Santeri Kinnunen, Heli Sutela.
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