'Klown' Stumbles Down the Stretch
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
The Danish import "Klown" is a feature spin-off from what I glean to be a relatively popular sitcom across the pond. The show, in which comic actors Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen play a pair of relatively hapless characters named Frank and Casper, would appear to be some kind of hybrid of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Odd Couple." Not much in the way of context/introduction, however, is necessary for a viewer's immersion into the world of the movie, which is a reasonably enjoyable and not entirely dumb raunch comedy of awkwardness until it disastrously overplays its hand in the final two minutes.
The opening scene lays out the characters with not inapt broadness, bringing the main ensemble together for a wedding. Bespectacled, long-jawed Frank is the well-meaning schlemiel who doesn't know that his longtime girlfriend is pregnant. After a faux pas from a mutual friend, said girlfriend informs Frank she's not sure if he's father material. Taking a tip from the cab driver who brings him home -- "Any man has the right to become the father he's capable of being" -- Frank decides to abscond with his girlfriend's 12-year-old nephew, Bo, and bring him on buddy Casper's canoeing weekend. The only problem is, Casper's canoeing weekend is a front for what Casper wants to be a weekend of debauched adultery. He only chose the activity because it's the one thing that his own partner, Iben (veteran Danish actress Iben Hjejle, who has been in quite a few "Dogme"-style films, of which this is arguably an example), is guaranteed not to want to go along with. Oops.
Frank and Casper are two sides of the same coin of social ineptitude, Frank being the more diffident, Casper being the more "let it all hang out" near-hooligan. As is nearly always the case with such a dynamic, when push comes to shove, Casper's the weasel. But Frank's near Candide-like naivete tends to be overplayed. As in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the "Klown" television series features media luminaries playing themselves (Hven and Christensen are/were real-life Danish kings of comedy; I know, just imagine). While it's kind of interesting to see real-life Danish cinema legend Jørgen Leth playing himself and having a laugh over Frank's ignorance of the extremely lewd double meaning of the phrase "pearl necklace," it's also a bit of a stretch that Frank's so clueless about it. Doesn't he have any ZZ Top records?
The scenarios and the humor careen wildly between extremes of humiliation, abnegation and unpleasant sexual encounters with non-fantasy-inducing individuals, and Frank suffers both on the bonding-with-preteen and being-a-successful-debauchee fronts (one of the droller scenes involves him getting tossed from an exclusive brothel on account of being too ugly). All the while, "Klown" amuses as it skewers the presumptions of male privilege, and because it's Yurropean, it doesn't try to have it both ways the way so many American examples of the genre do by trying to eventually valorize its characters.
And also because it's Yurropean, it's also more "daring" than its American counterparts tends to be -- which becomes a problem at the end, which offers a visual punch line that crosses the line from edgy to offensive to just downright creepy in seconds flat. I've docked the movie a notch for it, and if you don't want to see what I'm talking about but might still want to see the rest of the movie, walk out when the kid hooks up the cellphone to the projector during the final party scene. You'll likely be able to guess what happens anyway.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.