Hey, have you heard the one about the Austrian who nearly destroyed Europe and masterminded one of the 20th century’s most horrendous acts of genocide? But seriously, folks: a rip-roaring comedy about Adolf Hitler? Maybe German writer-director Dani Levy (Go for Zucker) figured that, by turning the Teutonic tyrant into a comic caricature, we might somehow get closer to understanding the cosmic why behind the Third Reich. Whatever the reasons, this farce about a Jewish actor (The Lives of Others’ Mühe) who’s forced to coach the Führer (Schneider) for one last speech doesn’t deal in absolutes. It merely takes a long-verboten subject and serves the nightmare as a source for belittling humor, something that’s still no small feat.
Mel Brooks famously mined national socialism for yuks with “Springtime for Hitler,” of course, but the comedian didn’t hail from Deustchland. It marks a huge cultural leap that one of the Fatherland’s sons is dishing out a Hitler that’s a neurotic, infantile mess and portraying Nazis as ineffectual Dummkopfs fluent only in doublespeak (“The final solution…you shouldn’t take it personally”). But you wish that Levy had taken more pages out of Brooks’s bad-taste playbook—the digs feel surprisingly tame—and that the climax hadn’t borrowed so liberally from The Great Dictator’s utopian wish fulfillment.