Aug 21, 2002 at 12:00 am

Here we go again, on another trip into the whimsical world of mental retardation and emotional disorders. This time it’s Norwegian style, as two 40-something men are released from an institution and placed in an apartment, government-financed and counselor-overseen. The two are a classic odd couple: Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) is the little guy, anal-retentive and agoraphobic, and Kjell (Sven Nordin) is the big guy, impulsive, hulking and terminally horny. What fun will ensue as these two clash with each other and the denizens of the outside world? Yeah, it’s that corny.

Actually, Elling improves a bit as it progresses, mainly because Ellefsen’s rather fussy performance — all nervous tics and shameless mugging — starts to take on the aspects of a genuine monster of self-absorption. It’s absurdly funny, or preferable, at any rate, to Nordin’s lummox routine, with its recurring head-banging shtick. These are both excruciatingly broad performances, ones that Ellefsen and Nordin originated on the Oslo stage, and the film might have been helped if director Petter Naess had asked his actors to dial down a bit.

Or maybe not, since the film never goes much beyond seeing that Kjell gets a girlfriend and Elling overcomes his anxieties, at least enough to get out of the house. There’s a sequence where Elling, having decided that he wants to be a poet, goes to a local reading, but the expected satire never occurs. Instead the film galumphs towards its self-congratulatory message of outsider unity, leaving us feeling warm and fuzzy and happy to be so tolerant.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W. of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].