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By KJ Doughton | June 5, 2006

With the thud of an obese skydiver eating dirt after a chute malfunction, “Adam’s Apples” slams together good and evil for maximum black-comedy impact.

Meet Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), a truly unrepentant Neo-Nazi skinhead. Sentenced to community service at a rural chapel, Adam is evil incarnate. He scowls like a chrome-domed Clint Eastwood. Dropped off at the church, the hardened felon wastes no time keying the prison van that leaves him in the hands of supervisor Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen, of “Pusher” fame). A preacher whose blind optimism proves the antithesis of Adam’s sour outlook on life, Ivan takes the surly criminal under his wing.

Ivan’s countryside church houses other misfits, as well. Upon his arrival, Adam meets Gunnar (Nicolas Bro), a failed tennis player turned alcoholic rapist. Also inhabiting this reprobate sanctuary is Khali (Ali Kazim), a terrorist whose rehabilitation hasn’t quite sunken in (armed with an Uzi, he robs the neighborhood mini-mart on a weekly basis). Adam fits right in, replacing his new room’s wall-hanging crucifix with a framed portrait of Adolph Hitler. It’s obvious that Ivan’s reform system isn’t working. Maybe it’s because the priest has some loose screws of his own. “There are no evil people in this world,” insists this positive-minded Man of the Cloth, whose judgment seems to have abandoned him long ago.

To begin Adam’s rehabilitation, Ivan asks him to establish a goal. With snarling sarcasm, the physically intimidating thug suggests, “I’ll bake a pie.” Delighted with this concept, Ivan puts his antisocial guest to work as caregiver for the estate’s sole apple tree. When its fruits ripen, proclaims Ivan, they can be harvested and used to fill the pie. Unfortunately, ravens and worms are soon depleting the precious crop. The oven mysteriously breaks down. Perhaps Satan is at work, planting obstacles in front of Adam’s path to pie-preparing redemption.

Much of the film’s arsenic-drenched humor is derived from Ivan’s insanely uplifting angle on even the most depressing of incidents. Shooting at the pesky, apple-eating crows, Ivan’s followers mistakenly gun down the Chapel’s beloved housecat. The group bursts into blame-hurling mode, but Ivan is not fazed. “Let’s stop with the accusations,” he insists. “It was an old cat.”

Danish Director and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (“The Green Butchers,” “Flickering Lights”) takes this twisted, politically incorrect tone much further during a scene of Ivan comforting a dying, bed-bound Nazi war criminal. Unable to live with his wartime misdeeds, the man moans of inner torment. “We do make mistakes,” suggests Ivan in a misguided effort to pep things up. “But we don’t let it bring us down!”

“Adam’s Apples” culminates in a war of wills between Adam and Ivan. Along the way, Jensen’s inventive script asks philosophical questions about the nature of good and evil. Is blind faith really superior to a realistic sense of pessimism? At which point does positive thinking become dangerous? When Adam leafs through the Bible’s Book of Job, he suggests to Ivan that perhaps it is God – not Satan – who is behind the priest’s growing misfortunes.

A script of this magnitude suggests that Jensen will soon become a major force in world cinema. Like the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino, he’s not afraid to milk touchy subjects for uneasy laughs in a way that’s somehow less offensive than it is profound and invigorating. I’m not sure the movie quite lives up to its early promise, and the final scene seems too pat for the heaven-and-hell themes explored earlier. Even so, “Adam’s Apples” makes for a tart, tasty dessert that also satiates the appetite for something more substantial as well.

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