Filmmaker's 'Viking' is currently the top Teuton pic

Multihyphenate funnyman Michael Herbig, who has once again taken the box office by storm with his current hit, “Vicky the Viking,” will next be flexing his thespian chops in a black comedy set in the dark days of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The hugely popular entertainer — one of Germany’s most successful filmmakers of all time — is still basking in the limelight thanks to his latest directorial work, “Vicky the Viking,” which has become the country’s biggest moneymaker so far this year. With a current box office tally of $37 million, it ranks fourth behind Hollywood tentpoles “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “Angels and Demons.”

The film, which opened Sept. 9 and obliterated the competition with a socko weekend take of $11 million for Constantin Film, centers on a precocious Viking boy who sets sail on an adventure with his father and crew. Based on the children’s books by Swedish author Runer Jonsson and a 1970s animated TV series adaptation, “Vicky” has benefited from massive recognition and a strong nostalgia factor.

The film is Herbig’s fourth consecutive blockbuster after the 2001 Western laffer “Manitou’s Shoe,” 2004’s “Star Trek” spoof “Dreamship Surprise” and the 2007 CGI-animated “Lissi,” a send-up of the popular “Sissi” films of the 1950s about the ill-fated 19th-century Austrian empress.

Unlike those films, “Vicky” is Herbig’s first film not to parody another genre. In fact, Herbig says he sought to make a faithful live-action comedy-adventure adaptation of the animated series.

While he’s remaining the king of comedy, the 41-year-old Herbig is moving into more serious territory with a starring role in Leander Haussmann’s much- anticipated “Hotel Lux.”

Herbig plays a cabaret artist forced to flee Berlin after falling afoul of the Nazis. Looking to escape to Hollywood, he accidentally ends up in Moscow, where he’s mistaken for Hitler’s personal astrologer by Stalin, who wants to recruit him as his own psychic adviser.

Set in 1938, the pic takes its name from the legendary Hotel Lux, an upscale Moscow institution frequented by high-profile foreign communists in the early days of the Soviet Union.

Haussmann says the pic — the first in a new multi-pic deal between the helmer and Bavaria Film — is sure to be controversial with the jarring juxtaposition of slapstick comedy set against the backdrop of Stalin’s tyrannical purges.

Comparing it to Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful,” Haussmann says the pic’s examination of Stalin, Hitler, fascism, communism and mass murder, is sure to ruffle some feathers. Yet the director says setting a comedy in a “big historical, insanely tragic and brutal atmosphere” is something he has always wanted to do.

Haussmann is setting out to illustrate how the goals of communist and fascist ideologies mirror each other in terms of their persecution of people, and to do that, he’ll tell the story from the p.o.v. of a completely nonpolitical character who has only one goal: surviving.

“He just wants to go to Hollywood, but there’s a mix-up and he’s mistaken for someone else and ends up being taken to Moscow. He’s someone who says, ‘You don’t have to torture me, I’ll tell you everything you want to know,’ someone with real human qualities who ends up becoming a hero. He has a lot of me in him. He’s opportunistic and full of fear.”

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