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Friday, February 8, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Summer Love" a sloppy shootout at the Krakow corral

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Summer Love," with Boguslaw Linda, Karel Roden, Katarzyna Figura, Krzysztof Zaleski, Val Kilmer. Written and directed by Piotr Uklanski. 93 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences (contains violence, nudity, language). Grand Illusion.

Invitingly billed as "the first Polish Western" (or if you prefer, the first "Pierogie Western"), the ironically titled "Summer Love" affectionately deconstructs the Western in a way that's not quite parody, not quite homage and not quite satisfying.

It's a pastiche of everything we've come to identify with the genre, intended (in the words of Warsaw-born artist Piotr Uklanski, making his directorial debut) to "address issues of ethnic identity and cultural authenticity ... using a 'copy of a copy' process to underscore notions of aspiration, longing, desire — a yearning for the unattainable."

It's always nice when artists can articulate the purpose of their work, but not so fun when their intentions come across as garbled, uncertain and vague.

"Summer Love" is easier to appreciate for its fleeting pleasures and the obvious care that went into its production. It looks great, sounds great, and it's got an obligatory "American star" in Val Kilmer, whose role as "The Wanted Man" (in a film populated with nameless, iconic characters) requires him to lie dead for the entire length of the film. Even with sliced tomatoes squished onto his closed eyes, Kilmer nails the role.

That tongue-in-cheek quality is evident throughout the film, which applies wry, understated humor to otherwise gruesome lessons in survival — like how to cauterize a scalp wound with gunpowder, or how to control a buxom prostitute (Katarzyna Figura) with dark secrets in her past. There's also The Stranger dressed in black (Karel Roden), an alcoholic Sheriff (Boguslaw Linda) and a Big Man (Krzysztof Zaleski) who isn't very big, all speaking English with heavy Polish accents and spouting Western clichés with nary a wink to the camera.

What you won't find in Uklanski's conceptual mishmash is anything resembling conventional plot or narrative, which is fine for a deliberately artsy exercise in deconstruction but a bit irritating as a test of one's patience. There's got to be some coherence to the concept if storytelling is an intentionally low priority, but "Summer Love" feels more like a haphazard assembly of loose-knit components, jumbled together with obvious affinity for all varieties of a distinctly American genre.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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