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At World's End
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by Jay Seaver

"Hedwig and the wimpy shrink."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's a little bit amazing, when you come to think of it, how quirky action/adventure films made outside the Hollywood system can be. Maybe it's just because I am used to the conservative thinking that is typical here in America, but I tend to think these unusually expensive pictures with many different groups involved in financing and production would play it safe. And maybe that's usually the case, and those films just don't get exported. Still, I have a bit of trouble imagining "At World's End" coming from a Hollywood studio; as much as it's a big, exciting adventure with the expected dash of romance, it's also more than a little eccentric.

For instance, Adrian Gabrielsen (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) isn't the typical action hero; he's a psychologist working for the Danish government. He lives in the shadow of his well-respected father (Ulf Pilgaard) and cancer-stricken mother (Birthe Neumann), and has just been given a truly bizarre assignment: Fly to Jakarta and evaluate Severin Geertsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to determine if he is competent to stand trial for killing the crew of a British nature program in the movie's opening. At first glance, there seems to be no doubt that Geertsen is a loon; he claims to be 129 years old, well-preserved by eating the petals of an unusual plant he calls "Hedwig". The thing is, someone seems to believe him, which leads to Adrian being arrested for murder himself, escaping from jail with Geertsen, and the pair fleeing across the island with Adrian's secretary Beate (Brigitte Hjort Sørensen), trying to get to where Geertsen has hidden Hedwig and escape to Sri Lanka.

Even if At World's End had a more conventional action-comedy story, it would still have an unusual cast. Aside form Adrian's less-than-glamorous job, he's fussy and rather lacking in conventional charm. He's more than just a bit of a nerd or a nebbish; the thoroughly unconvincing way that he claims to have quit smoking goes beyond embarrassing to downright pathetic. It's impressive how likable Kaas makes this wimpy character, in large part by making him hilarious as a victim of circumstance who captures just how most of us would probably react in these sorts of unlikely situations. Meanwhile, even if Geertsen turns out not to be delusional, he's still kind of nuts. Coster-Waldau plays him as brave, charismatic, and assured, but also kind of psychotic from being out of touch with human society for a while. There's a hilarious bit at the end of an action scene where Adrian asks Severin why he did something terribly violent; Geertsen pauses, says he doesn't know, and then enthusiastically claps his new friend on the back like everything's okay. The pair make for a very amusing role-reversal, with the handsome Coster-Waldau in the supporting role and Kaas's sidekick-looking guy the star.

The real standout, though, may just be Brigitte Hjort Sørensen as Beate, the secretary who comes across as an unusually capable and charming ditz. She tromps through the jungle in a ridiculous dress, says overly-truthful and shallow things, but is also pointedly not stupid; she not only supplies Adrian with common sense, but often takes the initiative in getting them out of a sticky situation. Sørensen gives an immensely winning performance, letting us see that Beate has a bit of a crush on Adrian without having her make eyes or get flustered or give any of the other standard, obvious signals. She's gifted with great comic timing, and does is just generally fun to watch.

Anders Thomas Jensen's script is as funny as the cast. The movie opens with a sharp bit of black comedy, skewering nature shows by showing us both how we suspect they are behind the scenes and how we'd like some to end, and continues to up jokes both light and dark even as the adventure story picks up speed. He does a good job of supplying director Tomas Villum Jensen with enough comedy and action beats that those coming for either will feel satisfied. He also does well in not allowing the fantastical elements to take complete control of the movie without making them seem commonplace.

Director Tomas Villum Jensen (no relation to the writer, although they and Nikolaj Lie Kaas have frequently worked together in various capacities) takes all that and makes a handsome, exciting movie. Though not often afforded the chance to shoot big adventure movies in Denmark as either and actor or director, Jensen is up to the challenge of shooting an action-comedy on three continents (Australia frequently doubles for the Indonesian jungle), doing action well but keeping the movie a satiric comedy first and foremost, while also taking time to occasionally stop and just let the audience (and characters) enjoy the view. The only place where the Jensens ever really stumble is in the end, when they try to add a certain amount of pathos to the mix; it's a bit of a drag on a movie that had been pretty bouncy, even if occasionally dark.

Lots of adventures try to get serious in the end, though, and few of them can boast that they've done as well as a comedy, romance, and thrill ride beforehand. "At World's End" is decidedly offbeat, but also successfully so, a fun adventure all the better for its frequent odd choices.

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originally posted: 08/27/10 10:02:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/30/10 Ronald Holst after watching this I am at my witts end 1 stars
8/29/10 Kermit Crissey Excitement Galore, Worth the ticket price 4 stars
8/28/10 paul carter very exciting to watch. 4 stars
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