Reviews: Danish comedy ‘St. Bernard Syndicate,’ French disaster flick ‘A Breath Away’ and more
‘St. Bernard Syndicate’
“St. Bernard Syndicate,” directed by satirical documentarian Mads Brügger, begins as an amusingly eccentric, mockumentary-style comedy but runs out of gas about halfway through. Still, there are enough curiously deadpan, cringeworthy bits in Laerke Sanderhoff’s loopy script to keep you hooked, even as you search for the point of it all.
Frederik (Frederik Cilius) is a pudgy, boorish loser with a scheme to breed St. Bernard dogs in the apparently underserved market of China. He convinces the equally hapless but more upbeat Rasmus (Rasmus Bruun), an ex-schoolmate in ill health, to partner up — which is to say, fund the business launch. And off this odd-couple of Danes go to the glimmering city of Chongqing.
Meantime, Frederik has purloined his father’s sweet St. Bernard and (somehow) hauled the huge pooch along as an irresistible sales tool.
Once ensconced in an upscale hotel, most everything that can go sideways does as Frederik and Rasmus work, often at cross purposes, to get their harebrained plan in motion. Language and customs barriers, shady investors, random women, boozy forays, money woes and more fuel the increasingly pathetic pair’s inevitable — if darkly droll — downward spiral.
That friendship between the men blooms so late seems like a lost opportunity, though no surprise for a film that, for better and worse, rarely plays by the rules.
— Gary Goldstein
‘St. Bernard Syndicate’
In English, Danish and Mandarin with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Starts Feb. 1, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available Feb. 5 on VOD
‘A Breath Away’
An apocalyptic fog and a teenage girl with a rare autoimmune disease figure into the promising setup of “A Breath Away,” a contained, atmospheric French thriller that ultimately gets lost in the haze of a problematic script.
Determined to seek experimental treatment that would free their daughter Sarah (Fantine Harduin) from the 24/7 protective confines of a high-tech bubble, Mathieu (Romain Duris) and Anna (Olga Kurylenko) are forced to abort a trip to Canada when an earthquake unleashes a highly toxic underground gas that envelops all of Paris.
They manage to buy a little time by seeking refuge in the penthouse apartment of a hospitable elderly couple (Michel Robin and Anne Gaylor) above the rising cloud while their daughter remains protected from the creeping killer elements in her bubble, at least as long as the backup batteries hold out.
Although cinematographer-turned-director Daniel Roby effectively establishes the claustrophobic tension against a melancholic undercurrent that’s reminiscent of 1983’s “Testament,” the screenplay by Guillaume Lemans, Jimmy Bemon and Mathieu Delozier is decidedly less than airtight, leaving too many questions unanswered.
But even as it treads on familiar Stephen King (“The Mist”) and John Carpenter (“The Fog”) territory, the film has moments that will leave you gasping for oxygen — as long as you choose to avoid all those gaping plot holes.
— Michael Rechtshaffen
‘A Breath Away’
In French with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Available Feb. 1 on VOD
‘Then Came You’
There must be some way to innovate the dying teen melodrama, but no one has yet figured that out. Writer Fergal Rock and director Peter Hutchings throw a lot of cutesy mania and subplots at their cancer dramedy “Then Came You,” but the results are just another formulaic entry in the genre, albeit with a great cast.
The cancer-ridden teen in question is Skye (Maisie Williams), a wild, nonchalant girl with a colorful collection of wigs and a long “To Die” list, but the story is told through the perspective of Calvin (Asa Butterfield), a shy hypochondriac convinced he has cancer. The two meet at a support group, and sensing an easy mark in Calvin, Skye ropes him in as her partner-in-bucket-list.
“Then Came You” is effortfully wacky. Rapid-fire montages depict Skye pulling Calvin into her orbit, her effervescent spirit loosening up the maudlin young man who works as a baggage handler at the airport with his father (David Koechner) and brother (Tyler Hoechlin) while crushing on a flight attendant, Izzy (Nina Dobrev). It’s only when those affectations fall away that the film gets somewhat close to authenticity.
In the overstuffed plot of “Then Came You,” Skye’s terminal illness isn’t even about her. Her life merely serves as a lesson for Calvin to overcome his fears and seize the day. It’s a shame this manic pixie dream sick girl can’t even get her own movie.
— Katie Walsh
‘Then Came You’
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Starts Feb. 1, Laemmle Glendale; also on VOD
Set to a thrashing metal soundtrack, “Outlaws” muscles its way on screen with a Shakespearean struggle for power in a motorcycle gang. Simply trade Denmark or Rome for modern-day Australia, and swap the iambic pentameter for Aussie-accented growled curses, and you have this often-brutal thriller from first-time director Stephen McCallum.
While the Copperheads’ president, Knuck (screenwriter Matt Nable), was in prison, his second-in-command Paddo (Ryan Corr) stepped up to run the motorcycle club. But with Knuck free, he and Paddo now find themselves on opposite sides as they violently disagree on how the crew should operate.
Nable’s script isn’t always clear on its characters’ motivations, and it drags on even at a brief 92 minutes. However, “Outlaws” should largely satisfy audiences who like their action movies savage and bleak.
— Kimber Myers
Rated: R, for strong violence, including rape, sexual content/nudity, pervasive language and brief drug use.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Starts Feb. 1, Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood; also on VOD
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