Based on a true story, to use “based” very loosely, writer/director Thomas Cappelin Malling’s debut fictionalizes the Cold War missions of Cmdr. Arne Treholt, who was convicted of treason and imprisoned for spying. Malling’s genius? Turning the serious case of espionage into an action-packed ninja comedy.
Smartly, it’s played straight by Mads Ousdal (as Treholt) and company; no winking at the camera or breaking the fourth wall. It’s as if the characters are in any given international spy thriller from the 1960s, with Gaute Tønder’s rambunctious score selling the illusion. This one just happens to be rife with feng shui shields, flying cameras that look like UFOs, underwater hideouts with rooms but no walls, tossed ninja stars and Vienna sausages. There’s a recurring gag of people appearing from and disappearing to nowhere from a puff of smoke, and damn if I didn’t laugh out loud every time.
Because Malling’s imagination is way beyond his budget, some of the vehicles and sets are models, with no effort made to hide their DIY origins, à la Gerry Anderson’s “Thunderbirds.” The artifice only multiplies the film’s numerous charms. So many “wait, rewind that” moments are contained within, a viewing will take longer than the stated 80 minutes. It’s as hilarious a spy spoof as France’s recent pair of the “OSS 117″ films, but with subtlety in place of pure slapstick.
Among enough extras to keep you busy after you’re kept in stitches, the faux commercial for “Norwegian Ninja” action figures is a must. This disc is one of 2011’s most welcome gems. —Rod Lott