Stellan Skarsgård’s large, pensive mug looks thoughtful, if not particularly cerebral, in repose, and it’s a bigger asset than A Somewhat Gentle Man, the inevitable Norwegian entry in the international cycle of cutesy deadpan gangster comedies, deserves. Skarsgård is antihero Ulrik, a hood in the Oslo underworld who emerges from a 12-year prison stint for murdering his wife’s lover and is swiftly set up with lodging and a garage-mechanic job by his pompous boss-thug (Bjørn Floberg), who also tasks him with whacking the snitch whose tip got Ulrik locked up. Per genre conventions, the parolee is more interested in patching up his broken family than pursuing revenge, and manages to renew ties with his uneasy adult son and grab a café-kitchen quickie with his hostile yet still aroused ex-wife. More grotesque is the divide in his attention between a hatchet-faced landlady (Jorunn Kjellsby) who supplies him with steamed-cod suppers and businesslike 20-second liaisons on the cot where they watch Polish TV game shows, and a glamorous garage secretary (Jannike Kruse) who assures the freed killer, “I don’t believe people can change. Forget about getting in my pants.”
Director Hans Petter Moland and cinematographer Philip Øgaard bring an often pleasing palette of sub-Arctic light and backstreet grime to the slight doings, but few of writer Kim Fupz Aakeson’s gags provoke more than a chuckle; perhaps a visit to a Laplander gun salesman (with a dwarf henchman in winged sneakers), who in the midst of a pitch rants about the quality of trout sushi served in his new restaurant, plays better on the North Sea’s coast. Skarsgård delivers a couple of nice character moments, as when Ulrik laughs along with his son and pregnant daughter-in-law as he spies on them from his capo’s Mercedes, but is mostly saddled with moping about between slapstick sex and the application of righteous muscle upon the garage vixen’s abusive ex-husband. A Somewhat Gentle Man wraps up with an unsurprising restoration of gangland and domestic order, but its makers don’t break a sweat or any new ground in the process.