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by Jay Seaver

"What's 'Cannonball Run' in Norwegian?"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As you might expect for a film about a cross-country road race, "Børning" opens with a dedication to legendary stunt driver Hal Needham and shows an immediate affection for American car culture; that's not surprising even if the country being crossed is Norway. Is that love for high speeds enough? It's close; the movie could use a stronger story or a broader sense of humor, but it's sure got a lot of moments that work.

We meet Roy (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) in a prologue that involves drag racing, a speed trap, and his wife's water breaking, and then flash forward "14 years, 2 divorces, and 120 speeding tickets" to the present day, when he's plowed his love of American muscle cars, specifically Ford Mustangs, into his "Stallion Parts" auto shop, but isn't quite so enthusiastic about his daughter Nina (Ida Husøy) staying for two weeks rather than the expected long weekend, especially since he is utterly oblivious to what a chip off the old block she is. Long story short(er), he winds up losing the annual Street Legal competition because he won't pay her attention, and this leads to long-time rival TT (Trond Halbo) challenging him to a race. It winds up being a 2170-kilometer affair from Oslo to the North Cape, and in addition to Roy and TT, practically every gearhead in town joins in - and Philip Mork (Henrik Mestad), possibly the world's most dedicated traffic cop, gets called in from his fly-fishing vacation.

The trouble here is the story and its structure; this sort of race keeps the groups you want in conflict separate but can't allow them to get too far apart lest a winner be too obvious. That's not crippling; you can create little dramas or comedies inside the cars, and that's what screenwriter Linn-Jeanethe Kyed tries to do, although maybe not enough. There's not a whole lot to actually do with Roy and Nina, even when Chekhov's Nut Allergy goes off, although there's a fair amount of dry comedy from the car with Roy's best friends Doffen (Sven Nordin), Nybakken (Otto Jespersen), and Doffen's teenage son Jimmy (Oskar Sandven Lundevold). TT becomes almost a non-entity with nobody to talk to, and the script really finds little to do with Roy's girlfriend Sylvia (Jenny Skavlan) and her co-pilot Linda (Camilla Frey).

Despite that, they wind up fun people to be on a road trip with. Anders Baasmo Christiansen shows this really great ability to lighten up from grumpy reluctant dad to someone really amiable; the poor impulses that have made a hash of his personal life are never far from the surface, but his best self is there too. Ida Husøy sort of reflects that as Nina; the moments when she gets to be with her dad and do what they love are joyous, even if there's a sullen teenager ready to come out. In the other car, Otto Jespersen is giving the same sort of hilariously deadpan performance audiences might remember from Trollhunter, paired with the simpler straight man played by Sven Nordin. Jenny Skavlan and Camilla Frey give a fair amount of personality to what could just be the hot-girl car. Trond Halbo is mostly a low-level jerk as TT, but Henrik Mestad gets to leaven his dogged pursuer with a bit of comedy.

But how's the racing? Never actually suspenseful as a race, really; it's hard to tell who is leading or behind at any time, and the methods used to avoid the cops are kind of funnier in concept than execution. One crazy stunt happens almost completely out of the blue, feeling almost like an accident rather than great driving.

And yet, despite that, there is actually some really amazing stunt driving in Børning, although it may take those of us who are not huge car people a bit of time to recognize it because impossible CGI stunts in other movies have made it harder to process really dangerous stuff. There may be some digital work here, and less of the weaving and banging that usually serves as the backbone of a car chase, but there is some serious precision driving, skidding around tight curves at high speed, and what looks like really dangerous velocity on mountain roads. By the time the movie and race is in the home stretch, even those of us who generally take the bus will be darn impressed by what director Hallvard Bræin and his stunt crew are showing.

Would Needham apoprove? Probably; he made worse movies and appreciated great stuntwork. I personally must admit to wanting a little more from "Børning", although there's no denying that it realizes both its modest human and impressive automotive ambitions.

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originally posted: 07/22/15 01:56:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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