With its skinhead protagonist and its melding of biblical parable and rude farce, the black comedy “Adam’s Apples” achieves something of a miracle by going down smoothly and generally palatably. But its chancy material fares just so-so overall. As good takes on evil under dark Danish skies, the film isn’t profound enough to succeed as a fable or funny enough to constitute the wicked satire that it purports to be.
The movie comes from the naughtier lobes of Anders Thomas Jensen, the versatile writer-director whose credits include the melodrama “After the Wedding” (which he scripted), the cannibalism comedy “The Green Butchers” (which he wrote and directed) and some Dogme fare.
Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), a scowling neo-Nazi on parole, arrives at a rustic church to perform his community service and quickly clashes withIvan (Mads Mikkelsen), the deludedly rosy vicar. For a goal, Ivan assigns Adam to bake an apple cake and to watch over the church’s apple tree. As the tree, as if affected by Adam’s negativity, experiences plague-like attacks of crows, worms and lightning, Adam unleashes his vile spirit on Ivan as well and tries to break Ivan’s faith.
Ivan, meanwhile, treats Adam as a misguided good seed. Cataclysmic things happen on Adam’s road to redemption.
The film contains enough freshness in its particulars, and boldness in Jenkins’ execution, to surprise you early on. The conclusion, with its strain of humanism and absence of mush, satisfies. In between, things get rocky, however.
While his biblical symbolism indicates a desire to say something serious about virtue and vice, Jenkins undermines such aims by foremost delivering surface-level comic miscellany. Some is funny: an outrageous cure for a brain tumor; the too-sunny Ivan’s cheeriness after Adam pummels him. Some isn’t.
The fizzle stems largely from the sick behavior of Adam and two other members of Ivan’s bad-apple flock (Ali Kazim, Nicolas Bro). Rape and animal cruelty are put forth for our amusement, with sorry results.
Lifting the movie over the middling mark are Thomsen and Mikkelsen (the latter, having cried blood in “Casino Royale,” now bleeds from his ear). These top Danish actors give their characters shades that translate into a dignity eclipsing their patheticness.
Adam’s Apples **½
Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Nicolas Bro, Ali Kazim
Written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen
In Danish with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Screening: At the Lumiere