“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:55, three stars out of four.
“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared” is like “Forrest Gump,” is Forrest were a centenarian Swede with a knack for explosives. Actually, that’s not really true. “Forrest Gump” was a high-minded entertainment about family, history and the passage of time. “100-Year-Old” man is a cheeky comedy full of eccentric turns and daffy violence.
Take the opening scene, in which old Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson in old-age makeup), living alone in the woods, find that a fox has killed his beloved kitty. Allan prepares his revenge in the form of several sticks of dynamite with sausages wrapped around them. This is not an old man to be messed with.
Since the authorities don’t like the idea of old men going around setting off TNT, Allan is sent to a nursing home. When he sees some boys playing with firecrackers outside his room, he crawls out the window to go join them. Somehow, he ends up on a bus with a stranger’s misplaced suitcase next to him. The stranger was the courier for a biker gang, and the suitcase is packed with cash.
In flashbacks, we learn that this sort of bizarre contrivance isn’t new to Allan, who stumbled accidentally through key moments in American history. He blows up bridges during the Spanish Civil War, gives Robert Oppenheimer a few tips about developing the nuclear bomb, then gets kidnapped and sent to a Russian Gulag by Stalin, where he meets Albert Einstein’s dim-witted twin brother, Herbert Einstein.
I was surprised how much of the zany plotting of Jonas Jonasson’s best-selling novel director and co-writer Felix Herngren was able to squeeze into a two-hour movie. More importantly, the film retains the novel’s zippy pace and off-kilter wit.
Allan is a like a darker version of Gump, a simpleton who gets buffeted by the forces of history that he doesn’t comprehend. The difference is that while Forrest was propelled by goodness and decency, it’s Allan’s love of demolishing things — and his complete disinterest in the consequences — that gives him a key role in 20th-century history. He’s like a sociopath (after a century, the most wisdom he can muster is “shit happens”), unfortunately well-suited for the violent times.
Back in the present day, Allan stays on the run from the biker gang, picking up confederates along the way, including another old man, a timid young man, and an elephant and his trainer. Along the way, things are blown up, villains are accidentally killed, and the elephant sits on somebody. The film has an ambitious sweep, recreating locations around the world and across a century, but at heart it seems to take its cue from the rhythms of an old Buster Keaton comedy. This is not exactly high-minded humor, but it’s delivered so agreeably that Allan wins us over.
There’s a strange, almost perverse lesson here about a well-lived life, how Allan manages to move through life without regret or fear. He’s crossed every item off his bucket list — and then blown up the bucket.