There are two ways to watch “Cop Secret,” a wild-ride Icelandic satire of Hollywood action films. One is the classic “switch off your brain” strategy, which allows for an easy digestion of the non-stop parody elements in which each line and every situation is lifted wholesale from any number of cop thrillers. The other, with brain on, makes for a less enjoyable outing, since after a short time the obviousness of it all becomes wearying and the way it milks cheap humor out of a gay subplot sends up all sorts of red flags. Directed by Hannes Þór Halldórsson, who also happens to be the goalie for Iceland’s national soccer team, “Cop Secret” is the kind of movie that has you laughing despite your better instincts and is likely to do strong international business when dubbed into multiple languages. Stateside success however will be a tougher nut to crack.
From the cheery morning radio DJ on the soundtrack to the fast-moving drone shot flying over water heading to the port, everything coming from the screen feels very familiar, only this is Iceland. A bank heist is underway and the country’s most famous cop, Bussi (Auðunn Blöndal) is on the job with his lily-livered partner Klemenz (Sverrir Þór Sverrisson), chasing after the female robber motorcyclist (Vivian Ólafsdóttir) until they cross over Reykjavik city limits. That’s beyond their jurisdiction, so Hörđur (Egill Einarsson), the celebrity cop of neighboring town Gardabaer, takes over, raising Bussi’s hackles.
The contrast between the two is designed to generate the maximum number of chuckles: Bussi is unshaven and slovenly, living in a pigsty apartment and driving a Pontiac. Hörđur, his rippling muscles clearly evident beneath his tailored suits, lives in a large contemporary apartment straight out of “Architectural Digest” and drives a BMW with the kind of confident coolness sure to set Bussi on edge. In addition, Hörđur is proudly bisexual whereas Bussi is having relationship issues with his girlfriend Lilja Íris (Júlíana Sara Gunnarsdóttir).
No one can figure out why the bank robbers are only breaking in and not stealing any money, though all signs say they’re leading up to some kind of big caper. Criminal mastermind Rikki Ferrari (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) turns out to be a former model colleague of Hörđur’s, disfigured some years before and now out to terrorize all of Iceland; the only hope of stopping his merry murderous romp is to pair up the two cops in classic buddy movie fashion. The difference is that Hörđur’s attractions are unlocking Bussi’s repressed homosexuality, and soon their bromance turns into something far more physical, which opens them up to blackmail.
Halldórsson wrings every drop of satirical humor out of each situation, from Rikki’s Joker-esque pomposity — he invariably speaks in English, assuming an accent that’s part Donald Trump imitator, part sub-Marvel villain — to standard scenarios like the tough female police chief (Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir) spouting lines heard in every cop show on TV. That’s one of the biggest problems with “Cop Secret”: There’s not a shred of originality here, just a snowball fight of clichés thrown at the viewer thick and fast in the assumption that some of them will hit. The other major concern is the wink-wink handling of the gay story, designed to be laughed at in the same cartoonish manner as everything else. Hörđur’s stereotyped perfection and Bussi’s very hetero aura are created to make their pairing look ridiculous, even if audiences are also meant to be rooting for their coupling.
The actors, all personalities in Iceland, are clearly having a ball, and their infectious pleasure goes a long way toward keeping amusement levels from crashing. Though there are plenty of Icelandic in-jokes, it’s unlikely anyone will feel left out since the humor is broad enough and the targets are generally pretty easy to imagine. Cinematographer Elli Cassata was assistant cameraman on “Batman Begins,” which made him the right choice for what’s a parody of just that sort of thing, complete with a climactic stadium scene basically taken straight from “The Dark Knight Rises.” Entertaining? Yes, by and large. Clever? Not by a long shot.