Following 320 torturous hours in which my toddler rained whine-fire down upon everyone in his path, the local day-care facility reopened for business at precisely 7 a.m. this morning. In the least surprising spontaneous eruption of joy since the reunion of Berlin (the city, not the band), Mardi Gras basically broke out in the parking lot. I skipped and sang. I feasted on the most succulent fruits and firmest legumes. I acquired 35 strands of beads… the hard way. Iko Iko wan dey. Go Larry! It’s your birthday! Go Larry! Wheeee!
So you’ll have to forgive me if I remain a little drunk with giddiness, and permit me a smooth reentry to the working week via one of the brand-video world’s easiest subjects to dissect: a booze-related thingamabob. This time around it’s Kahlúa attempting to barter its liquid-party-candy image for a little hipster sangfroid. Happily, rather than falling back on either of the two mainstays of alcohol advertising - the dumb dudes acting dumbishly of beer spots or the suave actorly mannerisms of vodka and tequila ads - “The White Russian” settles into an easy western-noir groove, one that pays homage to genre conventions while simultaneously tweaking them.
Narrated by go-to gravelly baritone Jeff Bridges, the clip centers around a desert encounter from four decades ago in which a scruffy young lad digs up a satchel in the middle of the desert. Ah, but a pair of baddies - we know they’re baddies because they have the asymmetrical facial bone structure of someone who’s been punched a lot - are on the trail. As he attempts to make an escape, Scruffy happens upon a fully outfitted cosmonaut (a literal White Russian - get it?) who, improbably, appears right in the middle of our little scene. He buys time for Scruffy to escape - at which point we cut to Bridges at the bar, where he’s recapping the story to a skeptical bartender while nursing a white russian (the drink this time). In the clip’s penultimate moment, the camera pans back and we see the dug-up satchel at Bridges’ feet. I believe that’s known in the biz as a “dramatic twist.” Fade to black.
Mysterious-a-doin’s-in-the-desert is a simple premise and one that’s been played out in any number of dramatic fictions over the years. It resonates here once anew, however, because the clip dispenses with the expected dramatic trappings. When the typical protagonist/hero finds himself in trouble way out in the desert, his means of escape is usually conventional - say, he happens upon an abandoned shack which just happens to house a rusty yet functional weapon. Here, a cosmonaut materializes out of thin air - though, to be fair, his eventual presence is teased by an interrupted radio transmission heard in the baddies’ car. That’s weird and yet oddly plausible, thanks to the smirky relish with which Bridges relates the tale. You gotta love that jazz-meets-spaghetti-western score, too. It’s a lesson too often forgotten by crafters of brand content: music matters.
Could I have done without some of the more stylized flourishes, like the cutaway to a drummer whacking his kit to bits as Scruffy dashes through the desert? Sure. But Kahlúa’s brand folks are smart enough to keep the focus on the story, even as they gently mock it (and all others like it). They also toss inveterate Lebowskians a bone by placing The Dude within arm’s length of his preferred alco-swill. That’s a nice touch, even for someone who’s never seen the damn movie and oh please don’t tell me that I HAVE TO SEE THE MOVIE because don’t we all live with enough unfulfilled longings as is?
You can dock “The White Russian” a few points for the silly cuts that call attention to themselves and a few more for overplaying its titular pun. Beyond that, though, the mini-mini-film is alluring in a way that little alcohol brand content is, despite all of the effort to that end. Hell, I’d like to see a sequel. Do you remember the last time you walked away from a brand video wanting more? Me neither.