Ah, the quiet life of a small-town cop. Nothing to do but play a little street hockey, lunch at the hotdog stand, and corral the occasional stray bovine. Such is the fate of Jakob (Fares Fares), Benny (Torkel Petersson), Lasse (Goran Ragnerstam), and Agneta (Sissela Kyle) in the delightful Swedish film Kops, about four underworked cops, like Maytag repairmen, patrolling the streets of a town whose citizens are just too law-abiding.
Like a modern, and Nordic, version of the Andy Griffith Show, the characters have funny little conversations about nothing, saying things that Barney might have quipped to Andy in Mayberry. All is well until Jessica (Eva Rose) shows up from regional command and tells them that, due to a lack of crime, the station is being closed. The crew doesn't take this lying down, and Jakob and Lasse wreak a little havoc of their own to up the numbers and hopefully save their jobs. But when the overzealous Benny hatches his plan, things go horribly awry, leading to what has to be one of the most embarrassingly hilarious scenes of any film this year.
Kops wins you over with the warmth and charm of its characters, with quirks and depths that unfold at a small-town pace. And except for a few of Benny's Matrix-like crime-fighting fantasies, director Josef Fares keeps the humor subtle and understated, which only adds to the appeal of the characters. Catch it now or see Hollywood's version by the very unsubtle Adam Sandler, who already plans to remake it. (Friday, November 14, 7 p.m.; Parker Playhouse) -- John Anderson
With a ponderous title like Manhood, you half expect a film of near epic proportions (or an Albert Brooks comedy). It's a rather unfortunate moniker for a film to live up to, especially one like director Bobby Roth's new release, which has proportions more in line with HBO than MGM (though, come to think of it, the modest dimensions make a kind of sense, given Roth's background as a director mostly of TV movies).
Look at Manhood as a sequel to Roth's 2001 release, Jack the Dog, and you see that he's continuing to follow the wobbly trajectory of Jack (Nestor Carbonell), a photographer, from hopeless womanizer to divorce and single parenthood. The two films together attempt to tackle big-picture issues, the struggle to assume manly responsibility and to set a good example for the next generation, just not well. With Manhood, we pick up newly divorced Jack raising his adolescent son, Sam. Life suddenly gets interesting when Jack's sister, Jill (Janeane Garafalo), having an emotional meltdown after she discovers that husband Eli (John Ritter) has been having an affair, drops her 17-year-old scruffy son, Charlie, into Jack's lap until she can get her head together. Turns out the obnoxious and amoral Eli is having troubles of his own, and he winds up sleeping on Jack's couch.
On its face, the movie sounds interesting and ripe with potential, what with Garafalo and Ritter (in his last film before his untimely death) in the mix. But the movie comes off more as a series of inexplicable vignettes than a cohesive whole. Characters are inconsistent, without any logical development, as, for example, in a scene where all the men in the film are wearing black turtlenecks for no apparent reason. And stuff just happens without any tension or buildup to the big finish, which is so far from the reality of the film up to that point it feels like it's coming from another script. (Saturday, November 15, 7 p.m.; Parker Playhouse) -- John Anderson
Porn isn't supposed to be funny, but its stars make those goofy "sex" faces, they are generally unattractive, and let's not even get started on the acting. They have problems just like the rest of us. So why not make a spoof about the porn industry involving two guys with personal problems? The Bill and Earl Story is the ten-inch tale of a pair of studs endearingly called "stunt cocks." While you may be envisioning costumed phalluses jumping over flaming barrels on motorcycles right now, a stunt cock's job is actually to supply extra ejaculate to the set of a film at any given moment. He has to be ready, willing, oh God... and, uh, sorry -- that's never happened before. Yes, ladies and genitals, like many men, Bill (James C. Leary) and Earl (Kirk Pynchon) have a problem with premature ejaculation, but it comes in quite handy. In nine minutes (hey, how long do you expect a film about sexual dysfunction to last?), you get to know these two men -- really get to know them -- and witness the neuroses and insecurities of porn stars, cleverly disguised as a string of subtle jokes. Cameos by Lou Diamond Phillips and porn legend Ron Jeremy give the film a bit of levity, making it feel more like Spinal Tap dry-humping Boogie Nights. Bill and Earl make you realize porn isn't just about sex, drugs, and all-anal action. They have feelings too. (Saturday, November 15, 1 a.m., Cinema Paradiso; 9 minutes) -- Audra Schroeder
Poppitz is a slight Austrian comedy about a car salesman, played by the ruggedly handsome Roland Düringer, who collaborated on the screenplay with Swedish-born director Harald Sicheritz. Düringer gives us a hapless fellow who covers for inept coworkers, then finds himself worried, to the point of obsession, about his own job security. And yet he must take his selfish wife and their teenage daughter on vacation or risk further damaging his already-shaky marriage. That vacation turns out to be the trip from hell, as they end up at a gated guarded resort that has a nightmarish list of rules and regulations. There's an amusing running gag about how Austrians and Germans regard one another, but the movie gets increasingly and more obnoxiously farcical as it goes along. It squeaks by on the charms of Düringer, who's occasionally reminiscent of Liam Neeson, and a series of wickedly funny sight gags involving an accident-prone little German girl. (Sunday, November 16, 7 p.m., Parker Playhouse; 99 minutes; in German, with English subtitles) -- Michael Mills