Fantastic Fest Review: DAN DREAM Is Really Just A Lowbrow Nightmare
The Klown films and television series are hilarious, acting like Denmark’s answer to Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam’s mixture of awkward irreverence and genuine pathos is a treat for comedy fans somewhat burned out on America’s Apatow Improv Army, shooting take after take of ad-libbed riffing. Under the guidance of director Mikkel Nørgaard, Klown's elaborate mix of sight, sex and shit gags hit doubly hard once you factor in the notion that these guys really love each other in their own weird ways, and we want to root for them, despite cringing every time they cross paths with an unwitting victim of their shenanigans.
Which is why Dan Dream is such a crushing disappointment. The period piece follow-up to their legendary hijinks, Jesper Rofelt’s chronicle of Denmark’s failed attempts at manufacturing the world’s first electric car suffers from a studio comedy sheen and structure that undercuts the unruly attitude that marked Klown as being so damn entertaining. Sure, there are plenty of jokes revolving around race, poop, and copious amounts of cocaine, but all are presented with a “been there, done that” try hard fashion that never recaptures the edgy kick of Christensen and Hvam’s legendary "men behaving badly" romps. To wit, if Klown is their Curb, then Dan Dream is their Clear History.
That’s not to say the film is completely devoid of charms. The opening ten minutes – which introduce us to wannabe innovator Thorkil Bonnesen (Christensen) and his team of crack(pot) technicians – are hilarious, and a great example of what superb writers the Klown duo can be. They're a tightly structured, “gathering the team” combo of montage and voice-over, where we meet Vonsil (Magnus Millang), the racist car man, Per Lovmand (Peter Gantzler), the coked out finance lawyer (who’s broken out of minimum security prison the most times in Denmark’s history), and Henrik (Niclas Vessel Kølpin), whose role really just seems to be a flamboyantly gay stereotype. Rounding out the squad is Jens (Hvam), the true tech "genius" (heh) behind the electric motor, who’s held back by a rather shrill wife that wants nothing to do with the podunk town in which their project will be executed (except for maybe its waiters’ sexual prowess). It's another motley assortment of unruly dudes, which leads to the type of humor unruly dudes usually indulge in.
Thorkil cons his way into letting a small town host their experiment (with promises of building its first mass production factory there) and even bets the borough's inhabitants that he will deliver the first electric car in less than a year, or he’ll owe them all a bottle of whiskey. As you can imagine, he's going to end up making one massive liquor run. However, the main problem with Dan Dream is that it just sort of plateaus, in terms of laughs. There are a few chuckles here and there, but no flat out guffaws or shocking side-splitters like the Klown movies. Christensen and Hvam's script certainly tries to push the envelope – Vonsil constantly insults Thorkil’s black wife, and Jens’ significant other starts taking a special special set of “trumpet lessons” – but it all feels like forced stabs at irreverence, dressed up in goofy hair and glasses. Sure, Frank Hvam shits in a bidet at one point, but that sort of scatological nonsense shouldn’t be a high point with a set of comedians as talented as this.
Perhaps Dan Dream is simply a casualty of expectations, and will get better on repeat viewings (which this writer admits, there will be at least one of). Yet there’s so little about it that’s actually memorable, even twenty-four hours after an initial screening. To be fair, heading in and expecting another Klown is a fool’s errand, and there’s certainly a healthy amount of chemistry shared amongst this gaggle of weirdos that the movie floats on whenever it begins to lag. But it’s difficult to comprehend why Dan Dream couldn’t milk its premise for something bordering on insight regarding the excess of the decade in which its set, or at least try to double as Demark’s period comedy answer to Who Killed the Electric Car? Instead, its simply a bunch of dudes wearing wacky clothes, trying to out gross each other while we casually check our phones, hoping the glow from that advanced technology won’t distract anyone actually entranced by this lowbrow send up of future’s past.