Film Review: Men & Chicken

Mads Mikkelsen’s weirdo performance helps prop up this Danish black comedy about the reunion of long-lost mutant brothers.
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Fowl aren’t just for eating in Men & Chicken, Anders Thomas Jensen’s supremely strange fable about two brothers’ search for—and attempts to grapple with the reality of—their extended family. That quest is initiated after Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) lose their father, only to learn that he was merely a foster parent; their actual paterfamilias was a reclusive scientist who gave them up for adoption when they were infants, and in fact still apparently lives on a remote Danish island. An intellectual himself, Gabriel is eager to locate their real dad, and compels Elias to do join him, despite the fact that Elias is a belligerent freak—his curly hair and bushy mustache doing little to distract attention away from his giant harelip and deformed nose—who, it turns out, is also a compulsive masturbator.

The hamlet at which they arrive is tiny (population 41), and run by a mayor whom they meet after his daughter runs Gabriel over with her car. They receive an even more violent welcome upon visiting their father’s mansion, where they’re beaten with taxidermy-stuffed animals and enormous pots by the rundown estate’s primary inhabitants: Franz (Søren Malling), Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), and Josef (Nicolas Bro), whose bulbous proboscis and warped upper lips immediately reveal them to be Gabriel and Elias’ half-brothers. Thus, Gabriel and Elias become reluctant houseguests of their newly discovered siblings, whose life seems to revolve around fighting with each other, caring for the steroidal stud bull in the basement, and—while their ill 100-year-old father rests in an upstairs bedroom—spending intimate time with the property’s hens, some of which seem to boast the hooves of a cow.

Given the obvious genetic mutations on display, it’s not hard to deduce what the head of this family was up to in his laboratory—nor why his numerous wives all mysteriously died in childbirth. Director Jensen nonetheless stages Men & Chicken as if such revelations weren’t obvious, and the effect is that the film takes its methodical time building toward bombshells that have been telegraphed scenes earlier. Gabriel tries, to little end, to encourage his weirdo relatives to read the Bible and think about grander philosophical questions—specifically, where do we come from, and what’s the purpose of existence?—but the film’s destination is clear from such an early stage that there’s no momentum to this increasingly redundant tale about accepting, and cherishing, life in all its crazy forms.

If surprises are scant, Men & Chicken at least exhibits a distinctive sense of humor, led by Mikkelsen’s preternaturally eccentric performance as Elias. Far removed from the villainous roles in Casino Royale and TV’s “Hannibal” that have brought him to domestic genre fans’ attention, the actor’s turn in Jensen’s import is a thing of unique bizarreness. Elias’ puppy-dog love for Gabriel (who barely tolerates his nitwit brother) is matched in intensity only by his confrontational and carnal impulses. By the time the character has shepherded Franz, Gregor and Josef to a nursing home in order to get them all laid, Mikkelsen has helped turn the proceedings into a starring vehicle of amusing off-kilter inappropriateness.

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