As Judge Neal Solon ages, he feels more and more compelled to replace his 1977 Toyota Corolla...In the meantime, he watches the occasional Danish action/comedy and writes about it.
"Who knew killing, kidnapping and prison breaks could be so much fun?"
The art on the cover of TLA Releasing's Old Men in New Cars makes the film look rather goofy. Worse yet, the art looks like a bad Photoshop rendition of goofy. Goofy is not usually my thing. Most of the DVDs that I have seen from TLA, however, have been pleasant surprises. The question is whether Old Men in New Cars, a prequel to the 1999 film In China They Eat Dogs, stacks up to its TLA released kin.
Facts of the Case
Harald (Kim Bodnia, Nightwatch) is a criminal. He has a gang. He has an overlord for a surrogate father, and a rap sheet that goes on for miles. In fact, Harald is just getting out of prison. Getting out of prison, however, isn't the treat one would expect it to be. Harald's henchmen forget to pick him up on the day he gets out. They want nothing to do with him. They've gone straight. Harald's surrogate father and mentor is on his deathbed, and he wants Harald to find his long-lost son. On top of all of that, Harald has some nasty creditors on his tail, who want their money back in the worst way. He's got a lot on his plate, and about a week to get it all straightened out.
Based on a synopsis of its plot, Old Men in New Cars must sound like a pretty straightforward action flick with a convoluted storyline. It could have been that. Instead, the film quickly turns into an absurd, madcap comedy. In confronting each of the three major impediments to his leading a happy life—his unwilling henchmen, his father's dying wish, and his need for quick cash—Harald stumbles into a new, unexpected situation. His henchmen have fashioned themselves into gourmet pastry chefs. His surrogate father's biological son is a serial killer, who needs to be sprung from jail and who frequently happens to be in the vicinity of attractive young women just as they "fall and hit their heads." As if that weren't bad enough, when Harald and his gang try to knock over a bank, they find themselves face to face with a woman who was about to commit suicide anyway. It turns out that she's no pushover. She also has no intention of leaving the gang alone now that they've ruined her suicide plot.
Old Men in New Cars is a film that could have failed easily, but it didn't. The caricatures it draws could have been wildly overdone, but they're not. The film succeeds on the strength of these caricatures. They are simultaneously subtle and subconsciously obvious. The result is comedy delivered by deadpan, off-kilter characters who run about in fairly typical, action-movie situations doing atypical things. The result is a lot of unforced laughter in unexpected places. The use of deadpan delivery and absurdist actions to take a standard action flick in a completely different direction just works. Really, for the first third and the last third of the film, the script doesn't skip a beat. The film only drags in the middle, where it is busy focusing on some of the conventions of the action film genre rather than cracking the jokes that make the rest of the film so funny.
The fact that the caricatures in the film don't seem overdone is a testament to the actors. If you've seen In China They Eat Dogs, you'll recognize most of the actors and characters here. Otherwise, most of the Danish actors here, even the veterans, are likely to be unfamiliar. The whole cast does a solid job, but some of good performances stand out. The most difficult characters to play believeably are Mille (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity), the unstable, suicidal women from the bank who latches onto the crew, and Ludvig (Torkel Petersson), the homicidal son, to whom Mille seems most attracted. The two are played to perfection and seem natural, even if they are unlike anyone we've ever met. As a result, they are the source of much laughter throughout the film.
The presentation here is spot on, too. The picture is clean and lively, as is the soundtrack. Both have been presented on this disc true to their original forms: the video in anamorphic widescreen, and the audio in a Danish stereo track as well as in Danish Dolby Digital surround. The extras, sadly, fall a bit short of today's standards. They are comprised of nothing more than a theatrical trailer and a still gallery. Outside of the movie itself, there's nothing here that will leave a lingering impression, good or bad.
If you enjoy quirky, black comedies—especially if you also like standard crime or action movies—Old Men in New Cars is a movie you'll want to see. It's another pleasant surprise from TLA Releasing, and bodes well for the future of director Lasse Spang Olsen. Check it out.
How do you say "not guilty" in Danish?
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