By Daniel Barnes
*Opens today at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco, the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley, the Orinda Theatre in Orinda, and the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
This Swedish offering is about as light-hearted and inconsequential as a dark comedy dealing with mass murder and nihilistic destruction can possibly get. Fifty year-old actor Robert Gustafsson plays Allan Karlsson, a loner forced into a retirement home when he blows up the fox that killed his cat. Unwilling to slowly slip away, Allan escapes the facility in advance of his 100th birthday party, setting in motion a series of lethal misunderstandings and coincidences that attracts the attention of an ineffective detective. While avoiding both the police and a cartoonish biker gang, Allan flashes back to his disturbed youth, and to his discovery of “how good it feels to blow things up.” That proclivity gets Allan sent to a mental hospital and sterilized, but it also leads him to fateful meetings with General Franco, Stalin, and Robert Oppenheimer, and into inadvertently becoming the architect of the Cold War. If that’s not weird and wacky enough: oompah music! In the flashback scenes, Herngren seems to be going for a Forrest Gump-like historical fable, only with its unwitting hero touring the highlights of 20th-century slaughter and geopolitical intrigue, rather than the pop culture touchstones. But in the present-day scenes, Herngren indulges in glib violence and weak screenwriting clichés (convenient amnesia and a suitcase full of cash both come into play), and overstuffs the story with purposeless supporting characters. It’s an unusual ride to say the least, a mouthful of a title and several fistfuls of ideas, often quite inventive and wryly funny, but a little too flippant for me to fully recommend.