A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
David Dencik and Mads Mikkelsen play estranged brothers Gabriel and Elias, respectively, in writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen's bizarre "Men & Chicken." The two men are thrown together when, after their father's death, some family secrets come to light. The comedy in "Men & Chicken" sometimes tips into Keystone Cops territory, with people running around in the background like chickens (of course) with their heads cut off. "Men & Chicken" is a bizarre family psychodrama as well as a mad-scientist movie, complete with a crazy spooky lab full of terrifying objects. How seriously should any of it be taken? It's hard to tell, but the film has a dry eccentricity that is entertaining and absurd. You don't know what will happen next. If the hundreds of chickens clucking around in the movie revealed themselves as sentient beings with the power of speech it wouldn't be a surprise at all. In the world of "Men & Chicken," all manner of ridiculous things seem possible.
Gabriel and Elias set off together on a road trip to the isolated Ork Island (population 42) to seek out the brothers they never knew they had. Both have cleft palates as well as personality quirks (putting it mildly), and they can barely get through a conversation without running into intractable conflict. They have circular arguments about Darwin and Einstein. ("Einstein won the Nobel Prize, Elias." "Yes. In 1921, the lamest year in physics.") Elias is first seen on a date with a woman in a wheelchair who makes the fatal error of accidentally interrupting him. He snaps, "Do all people in wheelchairs interrupt this much?" Not surprisingly, Elias has no luck with women, particularly unfortunate for him since his sex drive is so titanic that he needs to masturbate multiple times a day. Elias' "condition" is treated matter-of-factly by his brother (who pulls over to the side of the road to let Elias get out and do his thing behind a tree). Gabriel is a philosophy professor who dry-retches and gags every other minute for unknown reasons.
Elias and Gabriel track down their three half-brothers holed up in a dilapidated former sanitarium, overrun by chickens, ducks, goats. The brothers call to mind the locals in "Deliverance": They are barely civilized, beating one another (and Gabriel when he first approaches) with huge dead birds or slabs of wood. They threaten each other with "the cage" for rule infractions. It's a madhouse. They all have cleft palates and other physical abnormalities and live in a raw state of nature (putting the lie to Rousseau's theories). They are petty, vicious, savage, rule-bound. Interrupting one another is strictly forbidden.
The sanitarium is an incredible and inherently cinematic location, utilized beautifully by Jensen. There are echoing long hallways, mysterious upstairs rooms and an off-limits basement. There is no electricity. The brothers play badminton in one room, all wearing tennis whites, and they treat the game as seriously as a World Cup match. At any time, a fist fight could break out. Every night they curl up by the fire and have a bedtime story hour, where they discuss plot points and character analysis, and nobody is allowed to interrupt anyone else, and of course nobody can obey that rule perfectly. The family unit is a tinderbox. The ensemble acting is terrific.