Yesterday you approached a film studio with your sublime-iest notion for a screenplay ever: What if John Profumo got into all that trouble because he was actually Thor the holy God of Thunder? I mean, box office, right? It was heartbreaking when the film studio bosses laughed you all the way back to your bedsit. You’d have done better if you’d taken your idea to Norway instead.
Action comedy “Norwegian Ninja” is a far better thought-out affair than its disingenuous name suggests. Based somewhat nominally on real-life events, it weaves fact and epic madcap fiction with all the skill of a celluloid Cassetteboy, resulting in a masterclass in absurdism by author-turned-filmmaker Thomas Cappelen Malling.
The “Norwegian” part in the film’s title is true. The “Ninja” bit, not to spoil things, isn’t. The story begins with hotshot diplomat Arne Treholt being convicted for espionage in Cold War era Norway for meeting with Russian intelligence to impart information on illegal US activity. This is pure veritas – the film starts with national headlines, newsreels and a dry Norwegian voiceover to prove it.
What happens next is unnerrantly funny fiction concocted by a child’s view of Cold War history. Director Malling was a boy who saw the world – and Treholt’s public shame – through an amber spyglass of Star Wars, eighties Ninja movies, video games and his dad’s spy novels. Why should Treholt have been a traitor-spy? Why couldn’t he be a Ninja master secretly working for the late King Olav V on Grassy Island, an eternal seventies idyll full of tranquil ninjas shot in loving seventiesvision? Why couldn’t Treholt use his ninja powers to defend The Norwegian Way against ‘Stay Behind’, an anti-Soviet force funded by NATO aiming to turn Norway into the 51st state?
This, then, is the (sur)real story of Arne Treholt, Norwegian Ninja. It’s original, refreshing, peculiar, inventive, wonderful and fully lives up to the glorious premise of its supercheese title in the way that, say, American Werewolf in London did and Hot tub time machine didn’t. Imbued with a sly, surreal Norwegian humour, the comedy’s delivered with perfect timing and a finely-honed sense of the ridiculous (Ninja carry fat wolves on their backs… They are terribly earnest… They feed penguins tenderly when there’s nothing going on down in action town).
Imagine the love-child of Kill Bill and Monty Python and you’re possibly halfway there. Throw in a dash of tart political insight and you’ve pretty much got it. The truth is that if Norwegian Ninja wasn’t so in tune with itself, Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have a field day with it. As it is, Norwegian Ninja knows exactly what it’s doing, the lovingly painted – yes, painted film poster shows that Norwegian Ninja knows its film heritage to a tee, and Crow et al will have to fall back.
We were tempted to give this a coveted four stars. In the end, we’ll give it a very, very solid 3.5. That’s 7 out of 10 on IMDB, folks. Only a ninja can split a shuriken, and what is a gold Best For Film star, if not a shuriken? And what are we holy fools at Best For Film, if not ninjas?