Starring: Matti Pellonpää, Kari Väänänen, Sakke Järvenpää
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Running Time: 78 mins
Leningrad Cowboys Go America is a Finnish film about an eccentric band from rural Russia who go to the USA in search of fame, ending up on a bizarre road trip across the country.
Totally deadpan and visually bleak, this film is one of the strangest yet most side-splittingly hilarious films I’ve ever seen. With an unrelenting ability to go one step weirder at every moment, Leningrad Cowboys Go America is an incredible exercise in pure deadpan comedy, and with a distinctly Nordic vibe dropped right into the middle of the USA, it makes for an absolutely hilarious watch.
However, given that this film is just so strange (and often bewilderingly so), I think it’s best that I quickly outline what on earth it is. As deadpan and bleak as it may appear on the outside, don’t think in any way that this is a black comedy. There are some slightly darker things that happen occasionally, but this is pure slapstick from start to finish, just delivered in the most brilliantly monotonous and straight way possible.
The film centres on the Leningrad Cowboys, a band from the middle of Russia that turn up in America with no real musical expertise, and yet look for gigs across the country. This leads to them randomly turning up in bars and clubs everywhere claiming their musical genius, and just improvising hilarious adaptations of the likes of rock-and-roll and country-and-western when they get to it.
Away from the music, the road trip side of the story follows the band as they struggle to cross the country on a shoestring budget, because their tour manager (hilariously played by Matti Pellonpää) won’t pay up for anything, even for something for them to eat. In effect, the road trip is just a bizarre series of battles between the tour manager and the weird one-brain band that all coddle together like weird long-haired minions that barely speak a word.
However, watching them getting bullied by their manager as he basically feeds them with one onion each on the entire trip, is just brilliantly funny, and their deadpan response to it all makes the road trip an endlessly hilarious series of mishaps.
In practice, there’s not all that much to say about this film, but that’s a very good thing in a way. It’s a blissfully simple movie, with a hilarious road trip centring on some very thinly-developed but unique and hilarious characters, and with such an amazing sense of humour being pummelled at you from start to finish, over the course of a very short running time, there isn’t a moment of boredom in the film, nor a second of respite from the pure weirdness.
In short, you’ve really got to see this film to believe it, but I’m giving Leningrad Cowboys Go America an 8.6 overall.