Good directors can elevate routine material, but the opposite also holds true. There’s no reason why Wolfgang Murnberger’s My Best Enemy shouldn’t be a ripping yarn. Moritz Bleibtreu and Georg Friedrich co-star as chums in Austria, weathering World War II. Bleibtreu is the eldest son of a wealthy Jewish art-dealing family that owns a rare Michelangelo sketch; Friedrich is a scoundrel who sees all the angles, and joins the Nazi party before the Germans invade. Friedrich tries to curry favor with his new bosses (and keep his Jewish friends safe) by tipping off the Nazis about the Michelangelo, but the plan goes south, and when the sketch Friedrich hands over turns out to be a fake, he’s ordered to retrieve Bleibtreu from a concentration camp to sort out what’s what. Then there’s an accident, and a mix-up, and soon Bleibtreu is wearing Friedrich’s SS uniform, posing as his buddy while Friedrich is sent to the camps.
Murnberger is working from a screenplay by Paul Hengge, telling a story that’s thick with ironic twists. He’s shooting for a lightly comic tone throughout, not wanting to make another heavy Holocaust drama, but also not wanting to be disrespectful. The result is a movie largely devoid of attitude or suspense. My Best Enemy is brisk and eventful, but after a while, it begins to seem like Murnberger is rushing through this material, afraid to dwell too long on any one situation, lest it tip too far into exploitation. Scenes scattered throughout point to the better-than-average movie My Best Enemy could’ve been, such as when Bleibtreu looks at his Nazi-regaled self in the mirror and marvels at what a difference a jacket makes, or when Friedrich’s fiancée Ursula Strauss (formerly Bleibtreu’s girl) arrives at the camp, risking Bleibtreu’s cover. The film isn’t predictable; if anything, it moves so fast that it’s almost impossible to guess where it’s going to land. But beyond the connection between counterfeit art and counterfeit people, Murnberger and Hengge don’t do much more than tell the story, quickly and plainly.