A fall from a great height turns a shy tech whiz into a macho man in Belgian B-movie wannabe “Dirty Mind,” the sophomore effort of Flemish genre helmer Pieter Van Hees (“Left Bank”). This tragicomedy is laced with dark humor and some impressive stuntwork, but sometimes struggles to unite its widely disparate elements, despite an ace central perf from Wim Helsen. Locally, “Mind” did just decent biz late January; elsewhere, cult potential in ancillary will interest genre specialists.
Cheeky animated opening, which suggests that Adam was probably the last happy man on Earth, sets the tone for Van Hees’ dissection of the male psyche. Nebbish protag Diego (Helsen) is a girl-shy technician who works out the behind-the-scenes details for the feats of derring-do of his moderately talented stuntman brother, Cisse (Robbie Cleiren). When forced to substitute for his brother, Diego misses the safety net and wakes up in a hospital as glib, fast-talking daredevil Tony T (also Helsen).
An uptight doctor (Peter Van den Begin) and his sexy assistant (Kristine Van Pellicom) diagnose him with a personality-altering frontal lobe disorder. But Tony, though technically ill, is finally living the life he’s always dreamed of — and doesn’t want to be cured.
Out of the hospital, he soon eclipses his brother as Belgian pulp TV’s go-to stuntman, even piquing the interest of a Hong Kong company in his work. (This leads to a spoof/homage of H.K. action quickies.)
Pic is peppered with strong individual sequences — including two spectacular stunts — but the more conventionally dramatic scenes tend to ramble. As in the helmer’s debut, “Left Bank,” the latter reels especially suffer.
The general air of eccentricity and mix of bland European setting, low-key but impressive stuntwork and very un-PC humor bring to mind Danish hit “In China They Eat Dogs” (which in turn was indebted to early Guy Ritchie and Tarantino).
The main reason auds will stick with “Dirty Mind” is Helsen’s full-bodied perf. His Janus-like Diego/Tony combo is riveting, and the comedian-turned-actor always underplays the cliches. His transformation is especially noteworthy because it depends purely on his acting: His hair and glasses stay exactly the same, repping a refreshing change from the usual 20/20 macho transformations that litter cinema history.
Van den Begin and Van Pellicom are appropriately over the top, though their last scenes, which echo “Frankenstein,” feel like they belong in a different movie. Grainy lensing and other tech credits are gritty, lending the pic an appropriate “quickie” feel.
“Dirty Mind” and its predecessor, “Left Bank,” are the first two parts in an announced trilogy. Van Hees could be on his way to becoming a genre director of some talent, a Flemish equivalent of francophone compatriot and cult helmer Fabrice Du Welz (“The Ordeal,” “Vinyan”).