The original Norwegian title of “In Order of Disappearance” — “Kraftidioten” — translates roughly as “The Prize Idiot,” a reference to the film’s unlikely, slightly dimwitted antihero, played by Stellan Skarsgard.
On paper, it’s a part that sounds like it was made for Liam Neeson: an angry, grieving father who sets out to avenge the mistaken-identity murder of his 20-something son by dispatching, one by one, the people responsible for the young man’s death. They include not only the actual killer and the mobster who employs him, but the various intermediaries who facilitated that criminal transaction.
And if that string of retaliatory deaths were to accidentally set off a gang war, well, so be it. The body count eventually creeps into the double digits in this darkly funny film, which is pretty much all it has in common with such superficially similar fare as the “Taken” movies. (But Neeson is signed on for an American remake.)
Skarsgard’s Nils Dickman, a singularly single-minded operator of snow-removal equipment in the remote mountains of Norway, isn’t from the mold of the American movie avenger. He has no “very particular set of skills” as Neeson’s Bryan Mills might put it. And the movie (by Hans Petter Moland of the moving “Aberdeen”) isn’t interested in what movies of that ilk typically concern themselves with.
Marking the mounting death toll with a series of deadpan, black-and-white title screens featuring a crucifix and the name of the deceased, “In Order of Disappearance” is less interested in justice, honor, closure and getting away with something than it is in the existential absurdity of each of those things.
At the top of the Norwegian underworld is a drug lord known as the Count (Pal Sverre Hagen), a slick capo as coldblooded about his business dealings as he is passionate about his vegan diet. As Nils — whose last name generates a bit of juvenile humor — zeros in on the Count, the film moves toward an inevitable, and not especially original, showdown that also will involve Serbian gangsters.
There’s plenty of collateral damage along the way, including a Japanese Norwegian hit man known as the Chinaman (David Sakurai), two gay thugs and Nils’ own ex-mobster brother (Peter Andersson). There’s nothing particularly quirky here that Elmore Leonard hasn’t thought of before.
Skarsgard is the secret ingredient that makes all of this work. His Nils plods forward bloodily with the same taciturn focus and lack of imagination that he calls upon when he sits behind the wheel of his snowplow.
At times, “In Order of Disappearance” is a bit too self-consciously clever. But what saves it, paradoxically — even, at times, delightfully — from skidding off course into cliche is the profound appeal of its middle-of-the-road, but never dull, protagonist.
(At Screenland Armour.)
‘In Order of Disappearance’
Rated R. Time: 1:56.