This ridiculously fun adventure flick that combines 1980s style comedy-adventure film a la Romancing The Stone with the mannered deadpan sensibility of Danish comedy. That At World’s End is a Anders Thomas Jensen screenplay is immediately obvious despite the grenades-and-jungle clothing. Shot all over the world, from Copenhagen to Jakharta to Sydney, it is an enthusiastic reminder of why we (I say that as those who grew up in the eighties era of Lucasfilm and Golan-Globus) loved these films, but with more than a few surprises in where it goes and how the story plays out. Deep in the Sumatra jungles, there is a rare flower that (legend has it) provides eternal life for those who consume the pedals on a regular basis. The living proof of the legend is Severin, a European man born in the 19th century (making him 129 years old) living in jungle-isolation with Hedvig (his name for the plant) until a team of BBC documentarians accidently discover the prized possession. Severin is perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic in defending the source of his immortality, and it is not long before there is an international incident between the local government and the Danish consulate. Enter Adrian, (Nicholaj Lie Kaas here a bundle of anxieties and nervous tics) a meek psychologist in mid-career crisis and a closet smoker who was just informed that his mother is dying of lung cancer (a taste of the films humour), is volun-told by his boss to go (along with his pretty, blonde secretary, Beate) down to Jakharta to assess the Severin’s sanity, declare Severin mentally unstable and get the loopy possible citizen (the jungle-man is bearing a 1906 Danish passport) shipped out and away from further bad press. Meanwhile, the local authorities are hell-bent on getting their hands on this miracle-plant.
Adrian is quite happy to get down to doctor-patient protocol, despite the messy way of doing things in Indonesia, and of course does not believe the immortality story for a nano-second. And with all the bad karma that goes on in Jakharta it is as if the filmmakers want to punish their lead for being a rational skeptic in the face of the inevitable high-adventure. Suffice it to say, through a series of blackly uproarious mishaps, and the surprise appearance of Bond Villain Steven Berkoff as a the films own Walter Donovan style billionaire, machine guns are soon firing, stuff is exploding, and a wild collection of interested parties, The military, the corporate goons, the psychologist & secretary and the 129 year old jungle-man are off into the deep green vying for the plant that gives eternal life. While Hollywood blockbusters of this type are either too cynically formulaic (Prince of Persia) or too egregiously disappointing (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), the injection of a little of the Adam’s Apples or Green Butchers taboo slapstick into the equation refreshes everything. While Severin is the Harrison Ford type of competent adventurer, the film choses to stay with Adrian, who could not look more out of place in the jungle (simply how he carries the machine gun is a subtle sight gag worth looking for.)
Director Thomas Villum Anders (yes confusingly similar in name to his colleague and screenwriter) doles the plot in almost a comfortingly familiar way, but like any good magician, you are not watching what the other hand does. Thus, rules you were not even aware of within the genre are broken with impunity and the film becomes one of those loving quasi-parodies of the genre while also also being a quality entry within it. Of course, sight is never lost that this type of film should be peppy, fun and above all, adventurous and it lives up to that account handsomely.
It is always a treat to see Nicolas Bro (The Danish Timothy Spall!) show up in a supporting role, but a real bit of surprise casting is Birgitte Hjort-Sørensen, wearing that red oriental silk number sported by Kate Capshaw in Temple of Doom. She may be sporting blonde hair and a knock-out figure but Beate could not be further from the shrieking tangle of princess and urbanite, Willie. Beate is the competent and trusty (if a bit naive) side-kick, to Adrian, mainly out of a crush she has on him that has never been returned. She is as savvy with research on the internet as she is gorgeous, and surprisingly holds her own in the Jungle. Most importantly she has dynamite chemistry with Lie Kaas. Where as Adrian is the skeptic voice of reason (something that runs counter to this type of film!), she is the faithful optimist willing to go into the jungle or stoically confront an armed road blockage if necessary. Already performing theatre on the big stages across europe and Broadway, I would not be the least surprised if in a few years she is an international star. Remember that Rachel Weisz got her big jump to fame in The Mummy franchise.
Made to be exported around the world, it is only a matter of time before the opportunity to see At World’s End comes along (Magnet, Rogue, E1 are you listening?)