The Higher Force



AFI Fest

A slacker riff on the mob genre - complete with a small role for "Sopranos" star Michael Imperioli - "The Higher Force" is a spoof so deadpan it barely gets going. The low-key Icelandic comedy, an entry in AFI Fest's Narrative Competition, hits a few targets but mainly unfolds as a loose collection of character types in search of a story.

Standup comedian-turned-actor Petur Johann Sigfusson, a mellow Jack Black, plays petty criminal David. He writes "mind-flow" poetry when he isn't lackadaisically collecting debts for the glowering and gullible Magnus (the standout Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) or trying to make contact with his meds-muddled mother, who has never recovered from the childhood death of her older son. Director Olaf de Fleur Johannesson ("The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela") opens the film with that car-accident scene, whose chief purpose, besides shock value, is to stake a claim for the protagonist's emotional life. In the present tense, he and his lead actor provide little evidence of much stirring beneath David's impassive facade.

David claims to revel in the "ordinary things that people don't pay attention to," but the film surrounding him indulges in the blatantly - if blankly - weird. David's wack-job girlfriend (Ilmur Kristjansdottir) has a penchant for pink; his German debt-collection partner (Stefan Schaefer) speaks in know-it-all English that includes pop quizzes on movies; his aunt creepily comes on to him in front of his mother. She also finds him an apartment, albeit one where landlord/neighbor Harald Haraldsson (Eggert Thorleifsson) is a friendless and deluded middle-aged schoolteacher who speaks of covert dealings as the Kingpin of Reykjavik.

David's inscrutable babbling about Harald convinces his higher-ups, including Imperioli's demimonde big shot, that he has fearlessly befriended a notorious felon. The film's title refers to a childhood relic, a martial arts/philosophy video that advises David to know his enemy. But for the characters and the audience, identity and purpose grow as blurred as David's mother's mind, with only occasional comic payoff.

A Poppoli Pictures presentation
With: Petur Johann Sigfusson, Eggert Thorleifsson, Stefan Schaefer, Ingvar E. Sigurdsson, Ilmur Kristjansdottir, Michael Imperioli.
Director: Olaf de Fleur Johannesson.
Screenwriters: Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, Stefan Schaefer, Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson.
Executive producers: Joel and Suzi Wilson.
Producers: Stefan Schaefer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, Helgi Sverrisson.
Director of photography: Rune Kippervik.
Production designer: Linda Stefansdottir.
Music: Pavel E. Smid.
Editor: Gudnii Pall Saemundsson.
No MPAA rating, 81 minutes