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Movie Review

Terribly Happy

A light and dark look at a lawman’s bad behavior

'Terribly Happy' In Henrik Ruben Ganz's "Terribly Happy," Jacob Cedergren (right, with Kim Bodnia) plays a city cop who becomes a rural marshal after suffering a nervous breakdown. (Oscilloscope Pictures)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / March 5, 2010

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In “Terribly Happy,’’ a Copenhagen cop is reassigned as marshal to a town in the sticks after a nervous breakdown. The idea is to take it easy. This silly but watchable movie has other plans. Robert (Jakob Cedergren) immediately finds himself drawn to Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen), whose husband, Jorgen (Kim Bodnia), frequently mistakes her for a punching bag. Why Robert falls into their mess is anybody’s guess. As these things go, the woman is quite resistible, and the boorish husband not exactly someone you want to annoy even if you carry a gun and a badge.

But the movie, which Henrik Ruben Ganz directed and co-wrote, tries hard to squeeze a comic thriller out of his dinky little setup. The characters are intended to be slightly stupid, but the writing isn’t necessarily smarter. Robert’s every move defies common sense, especially after we discover the cause of his breakdown. There are few signs of a broken psyche. But you can see his defective police work for miles.

At the risk of spoiling the proceedings, a murder occurs, and the local doctor tweaks the cause of death for something less incriminating. But the townsfolk grow suspicious anyway. They’re like a family of housecats; and the barmaid looks perpetually on the verge of a sneeze. The murder inspires some decent moral comedy. The actual culprit confesses but is repeatedly misunderstood, which is occasionally amusing.

Ganz has a tough time twisting the movie’s breeziness into a darker movie without warping the fun. “Terribly Happy’’ is based on a novel by Erling Jespen, but the real model for the cocktail of jokes and horror appears to be the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple.’’ The two movies share a dim, horny lawman, a wandering wife, and a violently jealous husband who’s potbellied and partial to cowboy hats. But that movie, the brothers’ first, was film noir for the funny pages. It had visual personality and a relentless appreciation for human evil. It was nonsense but legitimately suspenseful nonsense.

This movie is straining for the same effect, but it gets only partway there. Ganz can’t bring us past the movie’s many plot holes, even if there is a certain pleasure to be had in shaking your head at Robert’s every bad decision. Oh, don’t make love to her now; her face is still bruised. Ganz plans to direct an American remake. He’s quoted in the trade site Screen Daily saying that, with the Danish version, he wasn’t finished with the material. Fair enough. What’s missing in his original is the distinction between Robert’s poor judgment and the movie’s. Without it, the blood here isn’t all that’s simple.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

TERRIBLY HAPPY

Directed by: Henrik Ruben Ganz

Written by: Ganz and Dunja Gry Jensen, adapted from the novel by Erling Jespen

Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Lene Maria Christensen, and Kim Bodnia

At: Landmark Kendall Square

Running time: 99 minutes

In Danish, with subtitles

Unrated (some absurd sex scenes and more absurd violence)

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