Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(German with English subtitles)
Directed by: David Wnendt
Written by: David Wnendt, Johannes Boss, Minna Fischgartl & Timur Vermes
(based on the novel LOOK WHO’S BACK by Timur Vermes)
Starring: Oliver Masucci, Fabian Busch, Katja Riemann & Christoph Maria Herbst
Comedy has no limits. The most honest statements can usually be made with laughter. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver have become hugely popular over time, because they make great points through joke-filled commentary. Everybody is fair game in SOUTH PARK and that show has been on the air for nearly two decades now. LOOK WHO’S BACK is a German comedy that made a whopping 22 million in its home country upon release last year and quietly snuck its way onto Netflix. The film is sure to shock and offend, but also packs grim laughs and thoughtful satire.
Brace yourself because this premise is a doozy. Adolf Hitler (Oliver Masucci) inexplicably wakes up in modern Germany. He has no memory of anything after 1945 and is shocked to learn that WWII was for nothing. Desperate to discover why and how the world has changed, Hitler decides to take in as much information as possible. You might wonder how the general public reacts to seeing a fearsome historical dictator in present day. Well, they simply think that Adolf is a brilliant comedian who won’t break character for anything. He attracts the attention of a struggling filmmaker Fabian Sawatzki (Fabian Busch) and two television executives (Katja Riemann and Christoph Maria Herbst) who unwittingly provide a stage for the charismatic monster.
The filmmaking team behind this twisted comedy weren’t simply relying on a scripted narrative and included unscripted reactionary moments from the general public as well. It’s as if BORAT and a serious version of THE DICTATOR had a baby and this was the cringe-inducing, terrifying result. With elderly interviewees revealing rather extreme opinions about immigrants and people saluting in selfies with Adolf, there’s at least one scene that’s bound to make you uncomfortably shift in your seat. The film knows that it’s entirely based on bad taste, but doesn’t solely rely on shock value. Based on a controversial satirical novel, LOOK WHO’S BACK works as a comedy for half of its running time and then makes a hard left-turn into thriller territory.
I wasn’t expecting this seemingly shock value comedy to send shivers down my spine, but the final act had that exact effect on me. This story isn’t all about laughs, simultaneously making important points about fear/hate-mongering and the sideshow of current politics. What really sells the already ridiculous story’s alarming turn into thriller territory is Oliver Masucci’s straight-faced portrayal of Hitler. Masucci never plays the Fuhrer off as a goofy source of comedy, but instead as a horrifying relic of the past thrust into our modern times. This cinematic version of Hitler never once cracks a hilarious joke or makes an over-the-top pratfall, instead he’s simply walking around, spouting off hateful rhetoric, and winning people over with his uncompromising attitude.
There’s a definite line where LOOK WHO’S BACK stops being funny and becomes something far more terrifying. You likely won’t know it’s been crossed until the film has already sunk its hooks into you. Fabian Busch is great as a comical voice of reason, while Christoph Maria Herbst and Katja Riemann fill the roles of cold television executives. One could argue that the real stars come in the casual citizens who wind up in the unscripted moments. There are folks that restore your faith in humanity a bit, those who see the entire situation as one big joke, and an alarming amount of ignorant citizens displaying the very mindset that allowed Hitler to rise to power in the first place.
If I have any complaints with LOOK WHO’S BACK, they mainly stem from the film over indulging in a few of the sillier non-scripted moments. These bits are funny, but the real points are made during the story’s second half. LOOK WHO’S BACK might not necessarily be the funniest comedy around, but remains totally fascinating as a horrific satire that will keep you thinking about it long after the credits have rolled. I entered this movie expecting a darker-than-dark comedy and I walked away with something surprisingly more profound. If you’re up for an upsetting, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking satire that happens to be front loaded as a shock value comedy, LOOK WHO’S BACK comes highly recommended!