Dorks often get it in the neck. Not in films, though: plots are constantly being spun from the triumph of the bespectacled geek. In Revenge of the Nerds, the 1984 high school movie, a posse of hateful jocks burn down the local dorks’ house, bully, harass and throw rocks at them – until the brainiacs use all that throbbing grey matter to seek eye-catching revenge. Anders Thomas Jensen’s new film Riders of Justice also pits dweebs against the man: in this case, a nasty gang of criminal bikers (these being more of a Danish societal blight, so I hear, than a British one). Mads Mikkelsen plays Markus, a monosyllabic soldier suffering from PTSD, who is summoned back from Afghanistan after his wife dies in a freak subway explosion. He has learned on the battlefield that men are flesh and bone alone, so he can’t indulge his weepy teenage daughter Mathilde (a good Andrea Heick Gadeberg) when she ponders what might be happening to her dead mother in the afterlife. ‘She’s gone’, Markus grunts. Later he tells her to go on a run, because she’s chubby.
It seems that father and daughter are fated to row into a bleakly uncommunicative future together, until some men turn up on Markus’s doorstep alleging that the explosion that killed his wife was not accidental, as decreed by the authorities, but masterfully plotted. The conspiracy theorists are Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a statistics expert who was on the subway carriage himself and survived; Lennart (Lars Brygmann), a folksy therapy addict turned hacker, and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), a facial recognition expert and pizza enthusiast. Their theory goes something like this: the subway explosion killed 11 people, amongst whom was a criminal due to testify against the Riders gang in court. The man died instantly, meaning that the case for the prosecution collapsed, and the gang’s head honcho walked free. On the balance of probabilities, Otto argues, the subway accident was most likely planned – meaning that Markus’s radiant wife died because of the Riders thugs’ callous disregard for life.
Mikkelsen plays it dead straight as a soldier with a grudge, lifeless eyes and no discernible sense of humour. He is happier snapping backs and downing tinnies than he is talking about his feelings, which his despairing daughter hassles him to do at every juncture. In Another Round – in which Mikkelsen plays a teacher who deliberately cultivates an alcohol problem to zhuzh up his life – Mikkelsen is the source of much of the film’s humour and warmth. In this film his job is more basic: to convey a man so gored by war and loss that he’s happy to put even his daughter’s life on the line so that he can get revenge. The richer and more interesting roles are given to Markus’s entourage – his three bumbling conspiracy theorist chums, and a pretty Ukrainian rent boy they pick up midway through the adventure (played excellently by Gustav Lindh).
The trailer for the film makes it look too much like a generic revenge thriller and too little like a comedy. A pity, because it’s seriously funny – even the savage shoot-outs are woven with jokes. There’s something Hot Fuzz-ish about the relentless and constantly surprising blending of violence and silliness. And for all the absurdity of the plot (the body count does mount up), the film proves in the end rather affecting, in its wry portrayal of a group of men in midlife – completely nuts, quite lonely, but capable of finding solace in one other, as they claim the vengeance they feel sure is their due.
Riders of Justice is released on 23 July in cinemas
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