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Riot On!
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by Jay Seaver

"Did we learn nothing from the dot-com bust?"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: Remember the dot-com boom? Ah, those were good times to be in computers. Swanky offices, the most recent version of every development tool you could possibly need available for the asking, high salaries, flexible working hours, investors just falling all over themselves wanting to give money to anyone with the ability to register a domain and describe a service that people MIGHT pay for. Good, good times. Where was I? Right, [I]Riot On![/I]. Anyway, as director Kim Finn is all too eager to tell you, some people didn't remember, and made the exact same mistakes when people promised the moon where mobile communication was concerned.

People like the founders of Riot-E. Like many of the first people to stake out a claim on the web, they were able to raise a great deal of money by tossing around ideas that were new and exciting, but were not only of little practical use, but often required technology that was years away (only one of the founders was any good with the technical stuff). Based on those ideas, they were able to secure major investment from the likes of Nokia and News Corporation and valuable licenses to Hollywood properties (such as Marvel comics and Lord of the Rings), which along with great marketing savvy kept them afloat for about two years, when they crashed and crashed hard.

Two of the founders, John Hakalax and Jan Wellmann are listed as writers and producers; co-writer and director Kim Finn was also an employee. It's therefore little surprise when Wellmann and Hakalax wind up being the most visible of the Riot-E founders throughout the film, though to their credit they don't try to spin themselves as victims. Their willing participation does make them seem a little more sympathetic, of course, and they do get to shape opinions a little more: For instance, we hear Jan talk about his seventy-hour work weeks and how in played hell on his relationship with his girlfriend, while Henri Korpi is mostly present as the main character in tales of excess.

Not that there isn't enough excess to go around. Henri's exploits dragging one of the other founders to a brothel while on a business trip to Asia are really at the middle of the pack. We hear programmers talk about how they would nap under their desks or spend more time in the sauna than doing work. The tales of the hardcore sex tapes that emerged from some sauna sessions makes the tales of the founders running naked through the streets at night, or wrestling naked in the bar of one of Helsinki's finest restaurants, just seem kind of eccentric (one of the founders explains how walking around naked in the evening is a normal thing for Finnish men, but even if it's true, it doesn't sound convincing). They wind up hiring an American felon who completely falsified his résumé for a key position, and he winds up being one of the most effective people in the company. Perhaps most outrageous is the way a drunk John handles the somewhat stiff representative from New Line Cinema while trying to save the deal for a Lord of the Rings promotion.

This sequence is presented as animation, which brings up how Riot On! is a very MTV-influenced documentary. It's got a lot of quick cuts, loud music, and irreverence. The narrator asks the audience "how the fuck this could have happened". This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing - the idea is to communicate, and popping little "Riot-E Founder" or "Board of Directors" logos up in the corner when we see those interview subjects is informative - there's a certain logic to using internet-inspired graphics when making a documentary for a younger audience about a high-tech company. But sometimes they seem to be trying a bit too hard - what's the point of the girl bouncing her cleavage to a distorted guitar riff that's used as a transition in early parts of the film. Even if you don't necessarily want her off the screen, you still wonder what she's doing there in the first place.

It's also somewhat interesting that this Finnish film about a Finnish by a Finnish director featuring mainly Finns is, for the most part, in English. Is English the de facto language for people working in international high-tech companies, no matter what their native language may be, or do the producers figure they'll get more international sales from an English-language film than a Finnish one? If the latter, do we attribute that to documentarians who want their story heard, or do we see it as a cynical attempt by Hakalax and Wellman to profit on the corpse of the company they helped kill?

"Riot On!" is a high-energy documentary even by recent standards, and it's fun to watch. Sure, it's another story of how it's easy to be taken for a ride by people without something physical to sell, but it's a lesson that bears repeating, as well as being an entertaining hour and a half.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14216&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/03/06 18:53:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/05/08 Jussi This is Business! 5 stars
3/26/06 Lena Anckarström Irreverense at Absolute Top level 5 stars
3/22/06 Just Jaecklin 5 stars
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Directed by
  Kim Finn

Written by
  Kim Finn
  John Hakalax
  Jan Wellmann

  Juha Aarikka
  Jussi Arhinmäki
  David Bowes
  Rod Britton
  Ninja Burgess
  Rico Camus

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