Anders Thomas Jensen's "Flickering Lights" may have been a huge hit in Denmark, but it doesn't travel well. A bleak male-bonding comedy that's a queasy blend of brutal humor and escalating sentimentality, it is overlong, heavy-handed, slow and unpersuasive. It's a disappointing directorial debut for esteemed screenwriter Jensen, who has contributed to key Dogme 95 films "Mifune" and the recent "Open Hearts." Considering the discipline of the Dogme 95 credo of stripped-bare filmmaking, it is ironic that "Flickering Lights" is above all marked by self-indulgence.
The film opens in Copenhagen on the 40th birthday of Torkild (Soren Pilmark), a crook deeply in debt to the ferocious gangster Eskimo (Peter Andersson), who forces him and his gang to crack a safe in a Greek diplomat's mansion. Torkild, whose girlfriend has just dumped him, and his pals Peter (Ulrich Thomsen), Arne (Mads Mikkelsen) and Stefan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) are astounded to discover that the briefcase they have been ordered to steal contains 4 million Danish krone (about $580,000), which doesn't seem much by U.S. standards for high-risk loot but which bowls these boys over. Considering that one of the diplomat's security guards is shot dead and that Torkild will never again have so much money in his hands, he persuades the group to keep the money for themselves and head for Barcelona.
They don't get very far, because their getaway truck conks out in a forest, where they take refuge in an abandoned inn. Torkild becomes captivated by the place while they hole up there for Peter to recover from a gunshot wound. One by one all the men fall under the old restaurant's spell as they have time to reflect on their miserable childhoods. Torkild decides to buy and fix up the restaurant, and the men are bolstered in their efforts by a pair of local middle-aged eccentrics, Carl (Frits Helmuth) and Alfred (Ole Thestrup). Meanwhile, Eskimo is naturally trying to track them down.
This premise has possibilities, but Jensen plays up all manner of uninspired quirkiness and bizarre twists that come across as contrived. "Flickering Lights" sputters out long before it's over.
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times guidelines: Considerable violence and brutality, some of it directed toward animals
Nikolaj Lie Kaas...Stefan
A Rogue Arts Entertainment release of an M&M; production in association with DR/TV and SVT (Sweden). Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen. Producers Tivi Magnusson, Kim Magnusson. Cinematographer Eric Kress. Editor Anders Villadsen. Music Jeppe Kaas, Bent Fabricius-Bjerre. Costumes Henning Thorsen. Art director Soren Breum. In Danish, with English subtitles.
Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue, (323) 655-4012.