Based on Jonas Jonasson's best-selling comic novel, the film was a gigantic hit in Europe last year. The default description would be a kind of Swedish riff on Forrest Gump. It begins with centenarian Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) dropping out of the window of his retirement home and wandering to the bus station. As his newest adventure unfolds, we get his life story in flashback, in which he bumbles his way through major events of the 20th century.
Through dumb luck and good timing, Allan saves General Franco's life, gets drunk with Stalin and helps Oppenheimer develop the atomic bomb. He also befriends Albert Einstein's dimwitted brother, Herbert, and later goes to work for both the CIA and the KGB during the Cold War. Meanwhile, in the present-day narrative, Allan accidentally comes into possession of a suitcase full of money belonging to a gang of dumb but dangerous Swedish bikers. The bikers, in turn, are supposed to deliver the money to an Australian mafia don. Things quickly get complicated, even before the elephant shows up.
The contemporary scenes are pitched at the comic frequency of old Looney Tunes shorts, and I mean that as a total compliment. In fact, there's a very funny running gag regarding Allan's fondness for explosives that plays out like a kind of live-action, gallows-humor Road Runner cartoon. Whenever a dangling plot thread threatens to spoil the story's momentum, director Felix Herngren stages some kind of explosion. The story resets, and we go on to the next scene. I kept waiting for falling anvils or an Acme product placement.
The flashback sequences have a slightly different tone. Like the estimable Mr. Gump, Allan falls ass-backwards into history. But unlike Gump, he's no dummy. As played by Sweden's most popular comic, Allan is smart, mildly callous and largely disinterested in the world around him, until he gets the opportunity to indulge his passion for ordnance. There are strains of anarchy and grim nihilism in the story, deftly tweaked to give the comedy some punch. I like that particularly Nordic sense of humor, but it's not for everyone. If you enjoyed Danish import Klown, you'll find 100-Year-Old Man similar, but a little bit gentler and heavier on pyrotechnics.