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‘100-Year-Old Man’ softens the body count with whimsey

By Suzanne Condie Lambert | Gannett News Service

What if Mr. Magoo had a body count?

That was probably the pitch for Swedish director Felix Herngren’s “The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” a curious piece of whimsical fatalism about Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson, in and out of age makeup), the title’s centenarian.

Karlsson walks away from his care facility and into comic intrigue with a gang of skinheads and their crime boss, a dollar-store Michael Caine. Along the Swedish Yellow Brick Road, he picks up comrades in a shoplifting retiree, a commitment-phobic professional student and a shotgun-toting, elephant-rights activist.

But that’s just the scaffolding for the more interesting flashbacks, where we see Karlsson basically Forrest Gumping through some of the cruelest parts of the 20th century, from the eugenics movement to the Cold War, with the cruelest people, from Generalissimo Franco to Stalin, all while single-mindedly following his three great (and, apparently, only) passions: explosives, alcohol and urinating. Although the urinating thing might just be a consequence of the drinking.

Like Gump, Karlsson is an amiable simpleton, more enzyme than man, igniting bonfires of history without being consumed by them. And like Gump’s “Life is like a box of choc-o-lates,” Karlsson has a motto, also bequeathed from his mother: “Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be.” So when the bodies drop, Karlsson doesn’t seem terribly concerned. There are still more things to blow up and drink.

Despite the heavy themes, “100-Year-Old Man” keeps the tone light. It is a comedy, after all. The laugh-o-meter needle hovers fairly consistently on “amused grin,” although a bit in the Soviet Gulag in which Karlsson plots an escape with Herbert Einstein, Albert’s idiot twin, notches up into “exasperated chuckle.”

There are no great surprises here and not much nuance. Things are what they are, etc., etc. And the film could have used a trim. At nearly two hours, it runs about a half hour too long. Still, this “100-Year-Old Man” is pretty spry. But it might be better with alcohol.

[s3r star=2.5/4]

Music Box Films presents a film directed by Felix Herngren and written by Herngren and Hans Ingemansson, based on a novel by Jonas Jonasson. In Swedish with English subtitles. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated R (for language and some violence. ). Now showing at AMC River East 21 and Landmark Renaissance Place in Highland Park.