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Amazon Reviews

AMAZON is a jungle adventure with an ecological angle and Finnish director and co-screenwriter Mika Kaurismaki's English-language feature debut. It throws some intriguing twists into an old genre, but it loses its focus as it goes along and ends abruptly and anti-climactically. The film opens with Kari (Kari Vaananen, who costarred as the "village idiot" in LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA, a film by Mika's acclaimed younger brother, Aki Kaurismaki) and his two preteen daughters, Nina and Lea (Minna Sovio and Ailo Sovio), speeding along the grandly named Trans Amazonica Highway, actually a two-lane dirt road that runs north from Rio de Janeiro. Having already fled from his native Finland, Kari is now on the run from Brazilian authorities as well. In flashbacks we see how Kari, a successful businessman in his home country, saw his world fall apart when a car accident left his wife in an irreversible coma. After causing her death by disconnecting her life-support apparatus, Karl bundled his daughters off to Brazil, where he thought the Finnish authorities would never bother looking for him. In Rio, he's promptly robbed and led into a shady scheme to transport contraband. When his partner is killed at a police roadblock, Kari decides to flee once again, even though the police let him go, thinking he's an American. Now on the road, out of money and, later, out of gas, Kari and his daughters are saved by Dan (Robert Davi), a cynical American expatriate pilot-adventurer who helps them get out of the jungle to his village and enlists Kari in a shady scheme of his own to use earth-moving equipment for diamond mining that would make them both rich, even though further damaging the already devastated rain forest environment. Also at the village, Kari meets and falls in love with a teacher, Paola (Rae Dawn Chong), an ecological activist trying to instill in her students a sense of pride in their culture and environment in the hope they'll grow up to resist the destruction of the rain forests. Under her influence, Kari comes to have second thoughts about his partnership with Dan. On a dramatic level, the entire film is pointed toward a confrontation between Kari and Dan. However, after a great setup, Kaurismaki effectively derails his own drama by abruptly killing Dan when his plane crashes in the jungle with Kari on board. Kari is found and nursed back to health by a tribe of Indians, eventually making his way back to his village and into Paola's arms. It's a happy ending, to be sure, but also a vaguely unsatisfying one, since Kari has never been forced to choose between Dan and Paolo and what each represents to him--living rich but corrupt or poor but honest. It doesn't help either that Dan is the most richly written and best-played character in the film by Davi (RAW DEAL, DIE HARD, LICENCE TO KILL), one of a legion of outstanding American character actors who rarely get to see the limelight except in offbeat or low-budget efforts such as this one. When he drops out of the film (even as he narrates the film to its end from beyond the grave), it never quite recovers. Kaurismaki's plotting is also a little awkward in introducing Kari's daughters as important characters only to drop them from the action. The supporting cast is engaging and the cinematography is rich and expressive, as is the moody musical soundtrack. AMAZON is finally most memorable for its powerful, though incidental, indictment of the ongoing destruction of the South American environment. Eerie recurring aerial shots expose once-lush forests that have been scarred, eroded and reduced by human greed and callousness to something resembling arid Martian landscapes. It's only unfortunate that Kaurismaki did not construct a more memorable fictional scenario to accommodate this very real outrage. (Profanity, adult situations.)