During the shooting of a nature-program in a remote rainforest a television crew is killed by the Dane Severin Geertsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Danish criminal psychiatrist Adrian (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is sent to the region with his secretary to assess Severin's state of mind: Severin claims to be 129 years old and says he has found a flower that gives eternal life when you eat its leaves. In the course of events, the three Danes end up running from the military police, led by the insane General Somchaik (Kee Chan), and from the American gangster Jack Pudovski. They are all seeking the flower that guarantees eternal life, even the skeptic Adrian, as it might be his dying mother’s last hope.
In the same week that Sylvester Stallone bludgeons cinema goers with his sledgehammer homage to 1980’s American action, The Expendables, Danish filmmaker Tomas Villum Jensen and local arthouse distributor Filmways sneak their dippy, delightfully-retro adventure film At World’s End into a handful of inner-city cinemas.
Jensen and his scriptwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (no relation) reunite with Nikolaj Lie Kaas, the leading man from their 2006 festival fave, Clash of Egos, to tell the story of office-bound police psychologist Adrian Gabrielsen, a man for whom life’s great thrill is sneaking a smoke while he drives to work. His feisty blonde secretary, Beate (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), has a secret passion for her boss, despite her subtle advances being largely ignored and she is thrilled to be included in a business trip to Jakarta that Adrian has been ordered to undertake.
There they will interview Severin Geertsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a Danish national in custody for the murder of a BBC documentary crew. Geersten is making wildly imaginative claims, most significantly that he is 129 years old and remains young-looking and fit from ingesting the petals of a mystical jungle flower that he has named 'Hedvig’, and that he protects with a homicidal fervour.
Adrian soon finds himself on the wrong side of the local cops (a running gag involving a hotel maid, an unflushed toilet and the misconception that Adrian has an excrement fetish highlights the film’s blackly hilarious tone) and, when the opportunity arises, he, Geertsen and Beate break from custody and head to the rainforest to find the strange plant. Of course, others are interested in such a miraculous discovery, most worryingly the evil Jack Pudovski (acclaimed actor Steven Berkoff, himself an '80s action icon thanks to his role as Victor Maitland in Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop, 1984).
Though Jensen’s film embraces the finer, funnier aspects of the Hollywood adventure flick, it is not bound by them. The film utilises some very unpleasant violence to convince audiences of the peril our heroes face; scenes including the murder of the film crew, gunshots to the heads of unfortunate Indonesian soldiers and the legless fate of one character as he dangles from a helicopter would not make it past LA focus groups, but give At World’s End a welcome edginess. One downside that an American production would have rightly excised is some inappropriate racially-tinged humour – jokes about the Asian local’s bad teeth and the occasional use of terms like 'little yellow man" have no place anywhere, especially in a film like this.
Other plusses include a nicely-woven subplot involving Adrian’s sick mother, which provides added impetus to the group’s search for the life-giving plant; some charmingly retro special effects work; and Jan Richter-Friis’ stunning widescreen photography of the Queensland tropics, where the jungle exteriors were shot in late 2008 with the assistance of Screen Queensland (formerly The Pacific Film and Television Commission, as it appears in the opening credits).
It’s a terrible shame that the marketing might behind Sly’s misfire hasn’t been afforded Jensen’s terrifically entertaining update of such screwball 1980s thrill rides as David Hemmings’ Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981), Robert Zemeckis’ Romancing the Stone (1984) and Lewis Teague’s Jewel of the Nile (1985). At World’s End is not the sort of crowd-pleaser one usually finds in the upmarket venues, so we can only hope discerning crowds buoyed by the spirited romp will word-of-mouth the film to some degree of mainstream exposure.