This will be a common reaction to the Danish “Men & Chicken,” an extremely black comedy that plays like a Three Stooges version of H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”
Our protagonists are bickering brothers Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen). They don’t look like brothers — Gabriel is short and balding, Elias is tall and hairy — but they have almost identical hairlips.
And their personalities couldn’t be more different. Gabriel is a college science lecturer who resents his crazy brother Elias for wrecking every romantic relationship he’s ever had. Once the women get a gander at Elias — a bizarrely compulsive fellow who masturbates several times a day and claims to be a great ladies man (though he’s never been on a date) — they decline to swim in that particular gene pool.
In a video last will and testament their late father reveals that the boys were adopted. In fact, they are the offspring of one Evilio Thanatos, a brilliant but disgraced geneticist who has spent the last 50 years on a remote Danish island. Curious about their heritage, the pair go looking for Daddy.
What they find are three of their brothers — the chicken-porking Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), the cheese-obsessed Franz (Soren Malling) and the taxidermy-crazed Josef (Nicolas Bro) — living in spectacular squalor in the rotting sanitarium that has always been their home. All three are genetic oddities: hairlips, hammer toes, gnarly noses.
Initially they attack and pummel their uninvited guests. But, getting used to the idea of an extended family, they reveal that their father is ailing and never leaves his bed in a remote upstairs room. No visitors.
So Gabriel and Elias decide to hang around, settling into one of the few rooms not overrun by the cattle, sheep, geese, chickens, pigs and other livestock that have taken over the ground floor of the old hospital.
The local mayor (Ole Thestrup) has put off having these loonies committed since it will drop the island’s population below what is required to get government aid. But he reveals to the astounded Gabriel that each boy had a different mother who died in childbirth. The old man, he jokes, is known locally as “the Sausage of Death.”
Over time the two sets of brothers begin to bond. Gabriel even indulges their romantic fantasies by leading an expedition to check out the “chicks” at the island’s nursing home.
And little by little Gabriel gets a whiff of what their father has been up to. That chicken with cow hooves instead of claws suggests something weird is going on in the basement lab.
There are a couple of astounding slapstick moments here, the dominant attitude is one of breathless absurdity, and in its latter stages “Men & Chicken” takes a near-tragic turn. But writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen clearly has sympathy for his odd-duck characters, misshapen though they may be.
Mikkelsen, who plays Elias, is of course the dramatic powerhouse who has played a sinister Bond villain, TV’s version of Hannibal Lecter, and has starred in countless memorable dramas (“The Hunt,” “A Royal Affair,” “Valhalla Rising”). It’s fun to see this usually “serious” actor chow down on some outrageous comedy.
But then he’s surrounded by equally talented thespians who are no less dedicated to giving us a world-class weird experience.