Revival: Karlovy Vary Review

Czechs, drugs and rock and roll.

A sunny Czech comedy about a veteran 1960s rock band attempting a comeback tour.

A band of aging rockers once known as the Czech Beatles reunite for a comeback tour in this slight but agreeable comedy, which premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival last week, where it picked up the publicly voted audience award. Written and directed by Alice Nellis, who has won multiple prizes for her Czech stage and screen work, this sunny farce will released domestically later this week. Aiming for the same kind of universal feel-good uplift as the comfort-food comedies of Richard Curtis, Revival has clear crossover potential in other markets, especially countries where subtitles and foreign languages are not deemed major commercial hurdles.

The film has fun with some fondly mocking flashbacks to the late 1960s heyday of Smoke, dope-smoking hippies with a penchant for psychedelic blues-rock sung in shaky English. Fast forward to today, and the band members have grown into cartoonish comic archetypes. There is the leather-clad bad-boy singer still partying like a teenager. There is a newly bereaved widower locked in unspoken oedipal rivalry with his handsome pop-singer son. And there is reformed hellraiser now living a monkish New Age life with his Yoko-ish control-freak partner. Also, there's an aging dad with the much younger wife who scoffs at his rock-star dreams. Considering it was written and directed by a woman, Revival takes a fairly chauvinistic line on its female characters.

Inevitably, once Smoke’s comeback gets underway, ancient personality clashes and long-buried secrets resurface. Plans to generate media interest with a fake health scare also end in disaster, and old tensions threaten to tear the band apart again. Nellis offers up at least three major obstacles to prevent the final triumphant hometown show in Prague from happening, knowing full well that it will go ahead anyway, and fully aware that the audience knows it, too.

If all these sitcom-level jokes about elderly swingers with creaky knees and flagging libidos sound familiar, that is probably because they are. The 1998 British comedy Still Crazy, co-starring Bill Nighy and Billy Connolly, covered similar terrain. Revival offers much the same mix of sentimental Baby Boomer nostalgia, sanitized debauchery and heart-tugging emotional manipulation, lightly sprinkled with local references -- such as the band claiming they were political dissidents during the Communist era as a marketing gimmick. This crowd-pleasing blend of Czechs, drugs and rock and roll is a little too sweet, a little too neat, but ultimately too warm-hearted to dislike.

Production companies: In Film Praha, Czech Television

Producer: Rudolf Biermann 

Cast: Bolek Polivka, Miroslav Krobot, Karel Hermanek, Marian Geisberg, Zuzana Budovska

Director: Alice Nellis

Writer: Alice Nellis

Cinematographer: Matej Cibulka

Editor: Filip Issa

Music: Jon Ponocny

Sales company: In Film Praha

Unrated, 115 minutes

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