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MOVIE REVIEWS : Pleasant but Minor Adventure in ‘Amazon’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mika Kaurismaki’s “Amazon,” which opened Friday at the Monica 4-Plex for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run, proves to be a pleasant but decidedly minor effort by the more conventional of Finland’s Kaurismaki brothers. Its future looks to be in video stores and television rather than theaters.

In his English-language film debut, Kari Vaananen plays a prosperous Finnish banker in the prime of life whose secure world is shattered when his wife is left in an irreversible coma after a car accident. Disengaging her life-support system, he sticks his life savings in a suitcase and heads for Rio with his two adolescent daughters (Minna and Ailo Sovio). In short order they are broke and out of gas in the heart of the jungle, where they are rescued by an American (Robert Davi), a cynical one-time fighter pilot in Vietnam who hopes to find a fortune in gold and diamonds in Brazil.

Written by Kaurismaki and Richard Reitinger, “Amazon” (Times-rated Mature for adult situations) is an adventure movie in which a man loses everything (but not, fortunately, his remarkably resilient and uncomplaining daughters) but winds up finding himself--and a new set of values, including a fresh concern for Brazil’s rapidly diminishing rain forest. The film has a nice flow and pace, gorgeous camera work by Timo Salminen and a mood-setting Nina Vasconcelos score, but suffers from overly bland English dialogue and characterization.

Vaananen has been wonderful in films for both Kaurismakis but is not as well-defined or vital here. Rae Dawn Chong, as a schoolteacher and dedicated rain forest activist, supplies both consciousness-raising and love interest, but her role is severely underwritten. Davi, who can be macho and funny at the same time, benefits most from the film, thanks to a sizable role that serves as a reminder that he is long overdue for Lee Marvin parts.

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‘Amazon’

Kari Vaananen: Kari

Robert Davi: Dan

Rae Dawn Chong: Paola

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Minna Sovio: Nina

Ailo Sovio: Lea

A Cabriolet Films release of a Villealfa Filmproductions production. Director Mika Kaurismaki. Producers Pentti Kouri, Kaurismaki. Executive producers Bruce Marchfelder, Klaus Heydemann. Screenplay by Kaurismaki, Richard Reitinger. Cinematographer Timo Salminen. Editor Michael Chandler. Music Nina Vasconcelos. Art director Tony de Castro. Sound Jouko Lumme. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (some adult situations).

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