“Wild Men” is a deliciously deadpan Scandinavian farce about the crisis in masculinity, skewering poseurs, shortcut-taking criminals and lazy, incompetent cops in a slow-walking pursuit thriller that really isn’t about the thrills.
Every decision a man makes in it seems idiotic, stupid or not wholly-thought-out and wrong. That’s what it’s about.
Danish filmmaker Thomas Daneskov wraps a goofy spoof of delusional Men’s Movement ideas in a tale of smugglers and cops colliding with a primitive, off-the-grid Viking lifestyle. Sometimes dark and often hilarious, it’s a comedy well worth the subtitles.
A burly, fur-covered mountain man (Rasmus Bjerg) stalks a mountain goat with his bow but fails to kill it. So he stalks a frog instead, feasting by the fire and paying the abdominal price for it later. It’s only when this Neolithic Nordic hunter stumbles across the empty candy wrapper that the game is up.
He’s off to the Shell convenience store to load up on groceries, smokes, maybe some beer.
“I forgot my wallet,” he whines, which tells the clerk he’s Danish and us that the movie’s set in Norway. “We need to work something out.”
No cash? No Spam and potato chips, chief. That’s the rule. Our Great Hunter can’t be blamed for the scuffle that breaks out, or how it ends. He’s hungry, loads up a basket and flees into the mountains.
That’s when we see his modern tent, his iPhone and the way he cooks beans in the can over the fire. And that’s where the injured smuggler with the backpack (Zaki Youssef) stumbles into him, a guy with a bloody gash that Martin, as our homeless “for about ten days now” hunter is called, offers to “stitch up.”
Musa was traveling with two mistrustful companions when they ran into an elk. He left them for dead and staggered into the woods, and he too notices Martin’s Danishness, that he’s adeptly sewing his leg up but with the filthiest hands Musa’s ever seen.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t get infected,” the jovial Dane reassures him.
The gas station robbery draws the interest of the seriously unmotivated local police. Old Øyvind (Bjørn Sundquist) seems more interested in scoring a free “French hotdog” than taking the clerk’s statement. And talking his two subordinates into tracking this “Viking” into the woods is a hard-sell.
“I have to pick up the kids. My wife’s made a roast. Can’t this wait until tomorrow? There’s more to life than WORK!”
“Protect and serve” is just as much of a myth in Norway as anywhere else.
Meanwhile, Martin’s dodging calls from his wife, who thinks he’s on a “team building retreat,” and unloading his reasons for abandoning his family and society to Musa. “I never need to open a mailbox or computer again.”
And a quarreling couple, whose pregnant wife is chewing out her husband’s lack of “altruism” stops to pick up hitchhikers — at the husband’s “Here’s your altruism” insistence — only to be carjacked by the survivors of Musa’s crash.
Director and co-writer Daneskov (“The Elites”) follows three, sometimes four threads and points-of-view in this slow and patient comedy. Everything and everyone points towards a coastal village where Musa and his mistrusting mates need to catch a ferry and Martin just might find his “tribe.” There’s an encampment of Viking reenactors living as “off the grid” as Martin, or so Musa promises him, if he’ll just get them there.
The Danish director knew that if he was mocking Norwegian cops and poking at anti “immigrant” prejudice he’d best make the biggest idiot here a Dane.
Bjerg’s Martin is beautifully befuddled and insecure. He’s pompously pure in his mid-life crisis “natural man” dream, incompetently delusional about that and downright judgmental when he discovers that the Guddalen Viking village takes Visa or American Express.
Youssef’s Musa is the audience’s surrogate here, puzzled at why anybody would want to live a primitive life as hard as that and impatient with the plainly racist (they pay him no mind) Norwegian cosplayers, led by Viking poster-boy character actor Rune Temte (“Captain Marvel,” “The Last Kingdom”).
Sundquist, Wotan on Netflix’s “Ragnarok” TV series, brings a lovely world-weariness to his tiny town police chief performance. Øyvind’s every deflection and change-the-subject distraction can be taken as a funny Danish dig at Norwegians. He’s literally “too old for this s—” and barely lets himself get put-out over his subordinates’ unwillingness to do their jobs, and their ineptitude when they finally do get around to the hard and sometimes dangerous work.
Sofie Gråbøl plays Martin’s understanding but increasingly frazzled wife, dragging their two kids and their pet rabbit up to Norway to find the father and husband who’s “lost his mind” as he got lost in the mountains.
“Wild Men” is a comedy of slack-jawed chuckles and slow-burn laughs, a movie that immerses us in that “O’Horten,” “A Man Called Ove” Norwegian style of deadpan, here married to a story that isn’t afraid to go “In Order of Disappearance” dark.
It’s “toxic masculinity” made light enough for mockery. And it tickled me, first scene to last.
Rating: unrated, violence, smoking, profanity
Cast: Rasmus Bjerg, Zaki Youssef, Bjørn Sundquist, Sofie Gråbøl, Håkon T. Nielsen, Tommy Karlsen and Rune Temte.
Credits: Directed by Thomas Daneskov, scripted by Thomas Daneskov and Morten Pape. A Samuel Goldwyn release.