“Børning” opens with a loving text tribute to Hal Needham, stuntman extraordinaire and director of goofy car chase comedies like “The Cannonball Run” and “Smokey and the Bandit.” At the risk of enraging some hardcore Burt Reynolds fans, I have to admit that those movies, and especially their also Needham-directed sequels are, to use a purely technical term, lame. However, they can work as enjoyable fluff if you ignore the tired slapstick jokes and focus on the driving and crashing stunts that are impressive even for today’s audiences who are jaded by the “Fast and Furious” franchise’s borderline superhero antics.
“Fun” should be the key word driving laps inside the mind of any director attempting to create a throwback tribute to Needham’s films. Unfortunately, director Hallvard Braein only manages to prove that he’s not up to the task as his ‘Cannonball Run’ send-up ends up with uninteresting characters, uninspiring stunts, and a slow pace that drags during the first hour. Instead of assimilating the silly, borderline vaudeville characteristics of the films its supposedly inspired by, “Børning” attempts to have the audience relate to characters who are as flat as the flick’s action cinematography.
We begin with a cold open where reckless racer Roy (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) decides to go head to head with his rival TT (Trond Halbo), a loner from the movie douchebag factory, while his nine months pregnant wife is in the passenger seat. Yes, ladies and gents, our protagonist is an irresponsible idiot at best, a reprehensible threat to all those around him at worst. Of course, the only predictable outcome happens, and the race ends with Roy wrecking his car with his wife inside. Braein’s attempt to provide some levity to a situation that floods the nightmares of every expecting family is to have the wife’s water break while she’s hanging upside down in the car, so the fluids drip down to her face and into her mouth. And you thought no one stooped lower than Adam Sandler’s brand of lowest common denominator “comedy.”
Fast-forward twelve years, Roy is prepping for a big race when his now ex-wife drops their 12-year-old daughter with him before leaving on a long vacation. Roy is a dick to his daughter for some reason, basically ignoring her very presence and treating her like dirt whenever he’s obligated to speak to her. The only motivation I could find for Roy’s behavior is that the story needed a central conflict and character arcs to fill the time in between the racing sequences and stunts. However, just creating conflict out of thin air simply because it’s a screenwriting necessity makes any attempt at character arcs null and void. We get the feeling that Roy feels guilt for the accident that happened right before his daughter’s birth, and that the two used to be close, but there isn’t any reason given regarding this sudden rift between them.
After a sleep-inducingly generic first act, the “Cannonball Run”-light premise kicks in when Roy’s old rival TT challenges him to a 1500-mile race across Norway. You’d expect the lack of sufficient character development to be successfully covered up by kick-ass driving scenes and insane car crash stunts from this point on, but unfortunately the over-the-top goofiness we expect from such an homage doesn’t kick in until the last twenty minutes of the film. “Børning” is Braein’s first narrative feature as director, and until now, he’s mostly been known as a DP (“Trollhunter” is among his credits). Perhaps his past experience as a cinematographer got the best of him and he couldn’t help but prioritize the gorgeous Nordic countryside over the metallic majesticity of the cars that were supposed to be the fetishized center of attention in such movies.
He mainly sticks to long shots showing the cars driving across nature, which makes the whole race look less like a balls-to-the-wall competition of rage and steel and more like a group of car enthusiasts going on a relaxing cross-country trip. The occasional appearance of slapstick comedy as a last-ditch attempt to break the monotony of the whole ordeal would be considered dated and desperate back in the ’70s, with shots of a couple’s making out session being broken by cars loudly zipping by, and a hitchhiker who starts praying as soon as he finds out how fast the drivers are going.
We get a couple of impressive stunts during the second act, but by that time it’s too little, too late. Roy’s car landing in the back of a truck is an impressive feat, and the highlight of the film. An extreme attempt to catch a leaving ferry also contains a dash of Needham’s entertainingly ridiculous stunt work, even though you have to really suspend your disbelief as to how the characters weren’t arrested immediately after pulling off the stunt, and are able to enjoy a quiet meal on the ferry in the very next scene. There’s also an attempt at dramatic pathos after a tragic event occurs during the climax, but all of the good will towards it is ruined because Braein wants to insert one last terrible joke seconds before the credits roll.
I’ve complained about the lack of character development for the male characters, but at least they get to technically be referred to as such. The same can’t be said about the female characters, nay, presence in the film. Two women racers, one of them supposedly Roy’s girlfriend, join the race and don’t get a single line and are barely even referenced by the other characters. Their function is to look pretty and fulfill their roles as badass racer chick stereotypes fetishized by petrosexual men. Say what you will about the recent “Fast and Furious” movies’ blatant exploitation of female bodies, at least they try to make up for it by giving their women characters lines and allowing them to kick some ass on occasion. [D]