Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Imagine if Larry David was Danish, favored dirty ejaculation jokes over dropping F-bombs with Susie Essman, and was just a wee bit more passive-aggressive; you'd have Frank Hvam, the delightfully awkward star of Klown, a new hard-R-rated comedy out of Denmark, based on the comedian's same-titled TV series that ran from 2005 through 2009 in his native country.
An improv-heavy barrage of painful situations and hilarious one-liners, Klown the television program has much in common with David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, in fact, but the feature film, directed by frequent series shot-caller Mikkel Norgaard, is the perfect representation of what gives Hvam's and co-writer/co-star Casper Christensen's brand of men-constantly-pissing-other-people-off humor the slight edge. It's vulgar, yes, but Klown is also willing to go large steps beyond what Hollywood films of its similar ilk, most notably The Hangover and its sequel, have in terms of darkness and surprisingly touching characterization.
The plot naturally breeds the kind of high-concept mischief that stateside comedic actors thrive upon; it's no wonder that director Todd Phillips (the aforementioned Hangover movies) and Danny McBride have already attached themselves to a Warner Bros. remake. Safe money says they won't go as far as Hvam and Christensen, though. In the briskly paced Klown, Hvam plays, that's right, Frank, an aloof-to-responsibilities fuck-up who's quietly devastated when his girlfriend drops two bombs upon him: One, she's pregnant, and, two, she doesn't think he's fit to be a father. So, naturally, Frank kidnaps her 12-year-old nephew, Bo (the perfectly innocent Marcuz Jess Petersen), and takes the kid along with him on a canoe trip. The rub, though, is that Frank's best pal Casper (Christensen) is determined to turn their kayak-and-oar excursion into a constant orgy, or, as he repeatedly puts it, "the tour de pussy." And, unsurprisingly, sex is had by many, though their various, inappropriate carnal romps all spawn hazardous consequences.
In Hvam and Christensen, Klown benefits from a pair of differing leading men who share a seamless chemistry and complement one another with unique strengths. Hvam, for his part, is wonderfully adept when it comes to a foolishly gullible rube; you totally sympathize with him as he idiotically masturbates above his mother-in-law, thinking she's his sleeping wife and following Casper's instructions to regain her affections through a "golden shower." It's also easy to understand why Frank would trust such lurid advice; coasting through life with unflappable arrogance, Casper is a slightly suaver, adult version of Seann William Scott's Stifler, and Christensen plays the part with just the right amount of charming dominance. As Klown progresses, both actors' on-screen personas undergo unforeseen, wild changes, and Hvam and Christensen never lose sight of what's important: giving otherwise buffoonish and reprehensible characters a disarming, endearing sweetness.
Wisely, as screenwriters, Hvam and Christensen devote most of Klown's emotions to the three way relationship shared between Frank, Casper, and Bo, specifically the dynamic between Frank and his de facto "son." Their script never loses sight of the fact that all of the older guys' antics could very well put Bo in grave danger, yet there's an underlying gentleness to the film that constantly gives one the impression that, even though his fathering skills are quite awful, Frank genuinely cares about the youngster. As a result, all of the cracks about Bo's rather small willy start off being damn funny but quickly lead to emotional highs. And that's what makes it a must-see for those who'd rather watch hair grow than sit through another clunker like Adam Sandler's That's My Boy. Klown has all that makes an effectively raunchy Hollywood comedy work, but that's in addition to its unpredictable edge, steady cleverness, and surprising, genuine heart. Thus, it's a significant cut above.
Klown is now playing at the following theaters:
New York, New York - Village East
Los Angeles, California - Cinefamily
Austin, Texas - Alamo Drafthouse
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)