LOS ANGELES — This week marks the arrival in the United States of the critically acclaimed and thoroughly inappropriate Danish comedy "Klown." It's about a guy who's stunned to find out his girlfriend is pregnant, but to prove he's capable of being a father, he kinda-sorta kidnaps his tubby 12-year-old nephew and brings him along on a debauched weekend canoe trip with his party-boy best pal. (We can't even repeat what these guys call their floating journey of sex and drugs.)
Shot with the stripped-down aesthetic that's a big part of the country's cinematic output, "Klown" feels like a Dogma 95 version of "The Hangover," complete with pictures to remind these guys of what they've done. But the matter-of-fact way in which these flat-out wrong adventures are depicted gives the film its own distinctive, riotous tone. And it gives us an opportunity to look back at five other great movies that famously pushed the boundaries of taste:
"Harold and Maude" (1971): He's young and in love with death. She's old and about to die. Why shouldn't they fall in love? It's icky on paper, certainly, but Hal Ashby's dark comedy has achieved cult-classic status over the years, and justifiably so. Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon are strangely adorable together as the mismatched couple of the film's title, whose meet-cute takes place at a funeral. Harold's methods of trying to kill himself in a quest for his elusive mother's attention are varied and inventive, but offered in their deadpan way, they're a consistent source of laughs. Then he meets Maude — and who wouldn't fall for Gordon? She's positively radiant here: impish, joyous, generous and full of life.
"Blazing Saddles" (1974): As my good friend and What the Flick?! co-host Alonso Duralde points out, this movie could not get made today. Its satirical racial element so blatantly defies political correctness, it would assuredly anger many audience members. But then again, bad taste is Mel Brooks' bread and butter. His Western spoof takes place in a small town that's about to be demolished by the development of the railroad. The crooks who run the place appoint the first black sheriff in hopes that the locals will revolt and make it unlivable. (As played by Cleavon Little, the character's name is Black Bart, naturally.) In retrospect, the famous flatulence of the baked-bean campfire dinner scene looks sort of quaint compared to the sort of gross-out humor we've seen in the past decade. And of course, Alex Karras punches a horse.
"Bad Santa" (2003): He's not jolly, he's just drunk. Billy Bob Thornton plays it completely straight in Terry Zwigoff's dark comedy as Willie, a part-time department store Santa Claus and full-time alcoholic con man. He's such a miserable, unlikable figure, it feels as if Thornton is playing him in a drama — and that's what makes the film so funny. Willie and his midget sidekick (Tony Cox), who dresses as an elf, use their mall access to stage massive heists during the holiday season. But nothing either of them does or says is quite so giddily wrong as the mantra the adorable Lauren Graham repeats while getting, um, intimate with Santa in the front seat of a car. "Bad Santa" doesn't beat you over the head with the fact that it's raunchy and edgy — it simply is.
"Team America: World Police" (2004): Two words: puppet sex. Marionette mashing so hot, it nearly earned the movie an NC-17 rating. I loved this movie so much when it came out, I gave it four stars out of four, and I stand by that. "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone spare nobody and nothing in their skewering of Hollywood and politics. And given the duo's love for musical theater, it's no surprise that some of the film's most hilarious moments come in song, including the anthem "America, (Expletive) Yeah!" which has become an instantly recognizable part of pop culture, as well as the peppy little AIDS ditty from the film's take-off on "Rent." ''Team America" is loud, fast and in-your-face but also surprisingly level-headed and a great visual achievement.
"Bridesmaids" (2011): The sink-pooping scene alone would earn this movie a spot on any list of the raunchiest movies in recent memory. But what I admire so much about "Bridesmaids" is that it takes a specifically male-dominated genre — the gross-out comedy — and injects it with female insights and sensibilities without compromising on the laughs one bit. All the crudeness is there: the drunken and drugged-up cavorting, the projectile bodily fluids and a delightful weird streak (courtesy of the fearless Melissa McCarthy, who earned a supporting-actress Oscar nomination). But star Kristen Wiig and longtime friend Annie Mumolo (also Oscar nominees for their screenplay) still manage to fill the story with truthful moments involving female friendships and falling in love.