1994, NR, 99 min. Directed by Ilkka Jarvilaturi. Starring Ivo Uukkivi, Milena Gulbe, Juri Jarvet.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 13, 1995
A co-produced Finnish/Estonian/American heist film, City Unplugged may owe a passing tip of the hat to previous caper films like Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Yet it finally succeeds on its own terms as the sort of bungled heist film that simultaneously radiates a dark, morbid wit as well as an impressive body count and exhilarating direction. Over the opening credits, we learn that Estonia's national treasury -- $970 million in gold bullion -- is being returned to its native soil after 50 years abroad in Paris, where it was sent for safeguarding from the Nazis during the Second World War. Across the tiny Baltic nation (and recently independent Soviet satellite country), the people are celebrating with much pomp and circumstance, singing patriotic songs and having parades. In the midst of this joyous melee is Toivo (Uukkivi), a young city utilities operator, who, at the behest of his loving and thoroughly pregnant wife (Gulbe), has opted for an elaborate scheme to steal the gold concocted by a group of Russian mobsters. Their plan: First, buy up all the candles and flashlights in town, then cut the city's electrical power (Toivo's end of the bargain) and make off with the loot under cover of darkness and later melt it down at the local cigarette plant and export it. All goes well until Toivo's wife goes into early labor and he is forced to attempt rewiring the town's electricity in order to keep the premature infant alive. As ludicrous as it sounds, City Unplugged has a fresh, dynamic feel to it, not the least of which is due to the rapid editing and bizarre camera angles of the director (who now lives in Los Angeles). The acting, as well, is uniformly superior -- far better than much of the grade-B capers coming out of Hollywood these days. Particularly notable is Juri Jarvet as Stub, the nicotine-fiend leader of the Russian gangsters who conveniently tucks a giant roll of uncut cigarettes behind his ear at every opportunity. City Unplugged can, naturally, be viewed as a statement about the emerging democracy and the future of Estonia, but it also operates just fine on the more Western level of a gritty -- and often hilarious -- crime film. Either way, it's great to realize there's more coming out of that part of the globe than Bjork.