A disappointing follow-up to helmer’s quirky debut hit “Noi the Albino,” Icelander Dagur Kari’s Danish-language pic “Dark Horse” is a shapeless mass of ideas that, much like its slacker hero, doesn’t go anywhere interesting. Although “Noi” was similarly character-driven, it motored toward a dramatically coherent climax. Latest pic, however, drives itself into a narrative cul-de-sac and requires a banal last-act twist to maneuver itself out. Novelty of black-and-white lensing plus quirky humor could help stable “Horse” at further fests, but it looks destined for an even smaller B.O. stall than its niche-release predecessor.
A taxman (Mikael Bertelsen) grills handsome but shiftless Daniel (Jakob Cedergren) for having claimed an income of only seven euros over the last two years. Daniel in fact uses graffiti to earn cash, writing girls’ names on walls on commission for romantic lovers. He spends much of his time tooling around Copenhagen in his dinky Fiat and hanging out with his chubby best-friend Roger, aka Grandpa (Nicolas Bro, “The Green Butchers”).
Grandpa, who works in a sleep clinic and wants to be a football referee, has fallen for local bakery shop employee Franc (Tilly Scott Pedersen), but it’s Daniel who ends up scoring with her after he helps her home one day when she gets too out of it on magic mushrooms at work.
The two eventually move into her grandmother’s (Asta Esper Andersen) house together when the sweet old lady suddenly dies, an offscreen death which pic doesn’t quite seem to know how to treat –as tragedy or black comedy.
Assorted eccentric characters flit through the proceedings, including Grandpa’s sleazy co-worker Tejs (Nicolaj Kopernikus), Franc’s mom (Bodil Jorgensen, playing a similar space cadet to her lead character in Lars von Trier’s “The Idiots”), and the judge (Morten Suurballe), who sentences Daniel to community service after he’s busted for graffiti writing.
Daniel’s semi-nervous breakdown, which manifests itself in shoplifting and dodging work, offers a looking-glass inversion of Daniel’s ascent into adult responsibility, but is not satisfactorily resolved.
Decision to break pic up into cutely named chapters (called “Daniel vs. the System,” “Red Card,” etc.) suggests post-production attempt to endow rambling, underdeveloped plot with structure, even though the chapter breaks sometimes come in the middle of a scene.
Nevertheless, dialogue in some segs manages to amuse in a sub-Kevin Smith, early-Richard Linklater way, particularly a scene where a Daniel discovers his meager possessions are being sold off at a makeshift flea market by his landlord’s kid.
Black-and-white lensing by Manuel Alberto Claro looks underlit and often more muddy than it ought, and morphs in just one shot into color for a crucial moment. Score by helmer’s own band slowblow overplays offbeat quality.