Most comedies that make it to movie theaters are content to do the bare minimum: set up an easy conflict, get a few laughs, keep it mostly inoffensive. Done deal. It’s not like the audience really expects or cares about cinematic ambition in this genre, and filmmakers seem fine delivering at that low bar.
“Men & Chicken” is not most comedies.
Superficially, it’s a thoroughly Danish (read: peculiar) black comedy about two brothers’ noble pursuit of their birthright and lineage. Yet from the opening scene, presented with a child’s ironic fairy-tale voiceover, as Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) are introduced, things seem askew. Gabriel has a tendency to dry heave like a mother bird trying to feed her chicks, while Elias can’t go long without incessantly masturbating. Their instincts are honed, but it doesn’t take long to see they’re struggling for connection.
Their father confesses he’s not their blood relative, sending the two mismatched half-brothers on a journey to meet their true family, who of course live in a remote, dilapidated, former sanitarium. They find three other odd fellows there, all with the same cleft palate (the makeup and special effects are subtle but impressive) and a tendency toward violent outbursts. Nearly every character endures a super-human level of pain at some point in the film, mostly of the cartoonish, head-crushing variety. As they get to know these weirdos, Gabriel and Elias also discover a horrible truth about themselves and their relatives.
The twists and turns of the plot in “Men & Chicken” are a large part of its appeal. You just may see where it’s going, as hints are doled out like breadcrumbs on a forest path, but you probably won’t believe the film will go there. But it does, and it’s a good reminder that, while it’s not wholly successful, this comedy is willing to push things much further into the bizarre than most, and that’s its own kind of special currency in a genre that’s too often happy to be bankrupt for fresh ideas.
If you’ve seen some Danish films you’ll probably recognize several members of the cast, but not enough can be said for star Mads Mikkelsen (TV’s “Hannibal”), here sporting a ridiculous mustache and awful hair. Already gifted with one of the most distinct faces in movies, and a range of abilities that has seemingly unlimited potential, Mikkelsen has a blast playing a buffoon. He’s easily the film’s MVP.
“Men & Chicken” is directed and written by Anders Thomas Jensen, who has worked on the script for the upcoming film based on Stephen King’s epic fantasy series “The Dark Tower” and has mostly written more serious melodramas for directors like Susanne Bier (“In A Better World”) and Andrea Arnold (“Red Road”). This slapstick comedy combines the wackiness of The Three Stooges with the awkward dark humor of the Dogme 95 film “The Celebration.” (Jensen’s own Dogme contribution was the 1999 drama “Mifune.”)
And yet, there’s even room for sci-fi and fantasy in this particular genre mashup. Jensen has crafted a truly unique comedy, one that belongs on a big screen. You also can’t say that for most comedies.
(104 minutes, not rated, opens Friday, May 6, at Living Room Theaters) GRADE: B