A buddy road trip comedy unlike any other, Lapland Odyssey has drawn comparisons to what might happen if a gang of art house filmmakers took over the production of something like Road Trip or The Hangover. Fortunately it's much more interesting than that premise might sound as Finnish director Dome Karukoski (who also directed festival favorites like Forbidden Fruit, The Home of Dark Butterflies, and Beauty and the Bastard) infuses the ridiculous antics with a recognizable human center, a fascinating isolated location, and some of the most gorgeous color cinematography you'll ever see in a movie comedy.
Twentysomething slacker Janne (Vatanen) is content to cash his unemployment checks, exert just enough energy to stay with girlfriend Inari (Tola), and spend time drinking and fighting off malaise with his best friends, Kapu (Pääkkönen) and Tapio (Lavikainen). However, it's finally time to man up when Inari demands that he go get the digital cable box he's been putting off for years, even frittering away the money she gave him. In fact, he has to cough up the box before morning, or that's it. Unfortunately the only electronics store that has one is closed for the weekend, and it's up to the trio to come up with the money, get the box, and come home safely... which proves to be quite a trick when they wind up on a long drive through the snowy night and run afoul of Russian hunters, the cops, and a highly unusual female water rugby team. On top of that, Inari's scheming ex is seizing the opportunity to move in and potentially destroy an already fragile relationship.
Individual viewer taste will depend on how well some of the film's rowdier scenes go over; there's a pretty wild scene involving a violently defiant reindeer, while some of the other gags involve an electronic game of strip Pac-Man, automotive mishaps on slippery ice, and a naked axe-slinging guy running through the snow. However, what really lingers in the film is the beautiful but oppressive location, which Karukoski captures impeccably with some astonishing landscape shots and great moments with the characters interacting with their landscape. Even a shot of Janne plunging into a swimming pool is beautifully rendered with a sense of visual poetry most current directors wouldn't even try to attempt. In the end some might dismiss the story as ultimately slight, but it's actually an oddly affecting film with a balanced and compassionate portrayal of its characters (especially Inari, who would definitely transform into a Leslie Mann harpy in an American remake).
Lapland Odyssey marks the second DVD release for Artsploitation Films, who made a splashy 2012 debut with the eye-popping Gandu. This one couldn't be more different and easily lives up to their mission statement of cinematic diversity; you could easily hook in people who normally don't watch subtitled films by popping this one on your TV. The transfer is about as good as this could probably look in standard def NTSC, but if the label ever decides to make the jump to Blu-Ray, this is a title that really screams out for the hi-def treatment. It really is a feast for the eyes. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Finnish audio sounds good throughout as you'd probably expect for a 2010 film, with plenty of multi-channel activity throughout. The main extra here is "Burungo," the director's earlier short film; it's about as different as you can get, a 13-minute look at an afternoon in the lives of some schoolchildren in an African village who skip school for the day. You also get bonus trailers for other Artsploitation titles like Clip, Combat Girls, and Gandu.