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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mads Mikkelsen gets grotesque in the unfunny Men & Chicken

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American movies and television almost invariably use Mads Mikkelsen for his steely Euro-charisma. The actor’s most notable roles here—Hannibal Lecter and Casino Royale’s Le Chiffre—combine danger with elegance, creating characters meant to be both admired and feared. At home in Denmark, however, Mikkelsen gets to show off a considerably wider range, especially when he works with prolific writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen. Men & Chicken is their eighth collaboration (including films Jensen wrote but didn’t direct, like The Salvation), and it almost seems expressly designed as a vehicle for Mikkelsen to play someone as far removed from his Hollywood persona as humanly possible, to the point where “humanly” could be considered less than 100 percent accurate. Alas, his performance is this black comedy’s only point of interest. The film is grotesque and bizarre without ever really being funny, and while the sight of Mikkelsen as a nebbishy loser is initially bracing, the novelty wears off fast, leaving little else.

Our ostensible heroes are Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mikkelsen), brothers who look nothing alike apart from the cleft lip each sports. When their father dies, a VHS tape he left behind reveals that they were both adopted, and subsequent research suggests that their birth dad, a noted geneticist, may still be living on the fictional Danish island of Ork. (The name might well be a Mork & Mindy reference; it would fit the context.) Arriving at his address, which turns out to be a dilapidated sanitarium, Gabriel and Elias are confronted by the patriarch’s other three sons: Franz (Søren Malling), Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), and Josef (Nicolas Bro). All of them are similarly disfigured, and none seems entirely right in the head, either. Following an initial altercation, Gabriel and Elias are invited inside; Gabriel’s efforts to see the family patriarch are continually deflected, however, and the basement is declared strictly off limits. Furthermore, there’s the unsettling matter of the numerous mutant chickens running around all over the property…

In short—and without giving too much away, hopefully—Men & Chicken amounts to an absurdist comic riff on a classic horror movie, minus its mad scientist. That would be fine were Jensen’s jokes not limited to random aggression and sexual dysfunction. Elias compulsively jerks off (even though doing so seems to be painful for him), and continually abandons scenes for another round of monkey-spanking; there’s an eventual narrative explanation for this, but that doesn’t make it retroactively hilarious. Nor is the notion of bestiality inherently funny, though that doesn’t stop Jensen from devoting lots of time and energy to blatant implications that Gabriel and Elias’ new siblings get down with the local livestock. At best, the film manages to wring a few laughs from sheer ludicrousness, as when Franz repeatedly assaults people with mounted taxidermy displays. Dencik, playing the closest thing Men & Chicken offers to a functional human being, strives mightily to put across the movie’s theme—family is family, no matter how “removed”—but the juvenile sensibility defeats him. It defeats Mikkelsen, too. Admirably seeking to trash his image, he lands in the trash.