Until someone creates a gruesome revenge comedy about a Zamboni driver in his personal war with the local narcos, there will not be a more amusing wintertime action comedy thriller than “In Order of Disappearance.”
Stellan Skarsgård is a polite, placid Norwegian snowplow driver who goes all Liam Neeson behind the wheel against his son’s killers. No, I am not making it up.
Directed by Hans Petter Moland from a screenplay by Kim Fupz Aakeson, the film has the sort of laconic Scandinavian sense of humor that largely downplays punch lines. Moland follows the Norske tradition of not flaunting one’s achievements. His film is often clever enough to make you snort popcorn out your nose, but not showy about it.
Skarsgård plays a fish out of ice water as Nils Dickman. He’s a Swede who has adopted a Norwegian hometown where he toils to keep roads plowed and drivable. While Nils is considered a foreign odd duck by some locals, he’s conscientious. The film opens with him donning a rare suit to be honored with the local assembly’s “Citizen of the Year” award. He’s quietly proud about being the area’s sole scraper, driving a very powerful rig with a gigantic blade at the front. Given the film’s eeny-meeny-miny-dead title, it’s as sure as Chekhov’s gun that the plow is notably present at the start of the story because it is going to be very useful for killing later.
As in the recent Swedish crime comedy “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” much of the comedy here is built on the hero’s calm amid the lunacy of a dozen ghastly deaths going on around him. Nils is focused almost entirely on his workaday duties until he learns that his son, Ingvar, a baggage handler at the area’s little airport, died under suspicious circumstances. The amusingly grumpy officer running the police morgue calls it a drug overdose, an issue that the growing junkie population has made annoyingly common. Soon Nils is paying less attention to pushing snow, and the film strikes pay dirt. He begins a methodical one man mop-up against the area’s dope cartel.
The conflict is bloody but not deadly serious. The local mob boss, nicknamed the Count (Pål Sverre Hagen from “Kon-Tiki”), is a new-wave profiteer, comically played as a ponytailed nouveau riche social climber. He’s more concerned with his child custody battle against his flashy wife and their little boy’s vegan diet than the shrinking number of henchmen on his staff. Hagen has a virtuosic way with tense freakouts that contrast enjoyably with Skarsgård’s poker face. The real scene stealer is Germany’s national treasure Bruno Ganz, playing Papa, the aged head of the rival Serbian mafia. Speaking with a baritone croak, he leads the conflicts between the gangs into escalating scenes of rollicking gallows humor.
Moland has a skilled hand for guiding this kind of deranged comedy, adding an occasional dash of rueful reflection on issues of fatherhood and family. While the ever-rising body count feels rather haywire at times, “Disappearance” scores enough unexpected laughs to make its scattershot flaws eminently excusable.