absurdist, Arden Myrin, auteur theory, bad cops, Best of 2013, black comedies, cinema, comedies, cops, cops behaving badly, dark comedies, Eric Judor, Eric Roberts, Eric Wareheim, favorite films, Film auteurs, film reviews, films, French cinema, French films, Grace Zabriskie, Harmony Korine, Marilyn Manson, Mark Burnham, Movies, Mr. Oizo, Officer de Luca, Officer Duke, Officer Holmes, Officer Rough, Quentin Dupieux, Ray Wise, Rubber, Steve Little, surreal, Terry Gilliam, Tim & Eric, Wes Anderson, Wrong, Wrong Cops
Quentin Dupieux gets me. He really does. If any filmmaker operating in our modern age can really be tuned in to my bizarre little wave-length, Dupieux is definitely it. While I may hold Refn and Wheatley in the highest regard, never having seen one of their films that I haven’t adored, Dupieux is the crackpot auteur who seems to view the world with my eyes. Beginning with Rubber (2010), the French writer/director/musician (he’s also Mr. Oizo, the French electro artist) has seen fit to depict a world that’s one part Lynchian suburb, one part dystopic wasteland and one part absurdist stage play. While 2012’s brain-melting Wrong serves to set-up the bizarre wonderland that’s finally unleashed in Wrong Cops, Dupieux’s newest is a completely stand-alone triumph, an absurdist nightmare that manages to be both hilarious and disturbing. Basically, Dupieux is up to his old tricks.
Whereas Wrong told a more linear, complex but, essentially, traditional (or as traditional as Dupieux can get) narrative, Wrong Cops functions more as a bat-shit crazy Pulp Fiction, wherein we are introduced to a disparate collection of characters who we then follow about as their stories eventually intertwine. In the case of Wrong Cops, we’re introduced to the titular characters, a ragtag collection of “law enforcement” personnel that are sort of like Police Academy filtered through It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, by way of Harmony Korine. We have Officer Duke (Mark Burnham), who has sex with transsexual prostitutes, delivers the pot he sells to locals by stuffing it in dead rats, carts around a “75% dead” body in his trunk and needlessly hassles a poor teen nerd who just wants to listen to his headphones (Marilyn Manson, in a role that must, literally, be seen to be believed…and yes…he is playing a teenage boy). We get Officer de Luca (Eric Wareheim), who holds yoga students at gunpoint in order to get their phone numbers and his partner, Officer Holmes (Arden Myrin), who uses her young son as bag-man in a money-drop involving the blackmail of a fellow cop. Said fellow cop, Officer Sunshine (Steve Little), has an active side-career in law enforcement-themed gay porn, a business venture which he’s managed to successfully hide from his adoring wife and daughter. Meanwhile, Officer Rough (Eric Judor), is just trying to make the best damn dance track that he can. There’s something missing, however, and Rough just can’t quite put his finger on it. Good thing that the “75% dead” guy (Daniel Quinn) has a thing for beats, though: with a little luck, he may just be able to give the cut the extra oomph it needs to secure Officer Rough a meeting with a top record exec. That is, of course, if he doesn’t bleed to death first. Throw in Eric Roberts as Duke’s drug supplier and Ray Wise as the group “who gives a shit” Captain and you got yahtzee, folks!
Like all of Dupieux’s films, Wrong Cops is easier (and better) experienced then explained. He has a particular skill with enveloping viewers completely within the reality of his films, something that Wes Anderson and Harmony Korine are both experts at. There’s never a point in the film, regardless of how strange, random or absurd, where the viewer is taken out of Dupieux’s reality: for my money, it’s one of the most impressive displays of world-building I’ve seen this year. The film has a sun-bleached, washed-out color palette and tone that recalls not only Rubber but, almost subliminally, Alex Cox’s outsider classic Repo Man (1984). I actually see several parallels with Repo Man in this film, not least of which is the almost mundane way in which the characters all deal with the strangeness massed around them. There was definitely this feel in Dupieux’s previous film, Wrong, but that movie was also a much more explicitly fantasy/sci-fi oriented project, as was Rubber. Wrong Cops, by contrast, is set wholly within a world that could, technically, be ours, albeit one in which everything was tweaked a few degrees…a world in which everything was just a little wrong, as it were.
Part of the joy with Wrong Cops, similar to watching exploitation films or anything by Lloyd Kaufman, is seeing just how bad things will get. As with everything else, Wrong Cops doesn’t disappoint on this count: things start bad and get steadily worse until the whole thing becomes a roaring tsunami of bad taste, bad choices, bad behavior and bad, bad people. Truth be told, there isn’t a single character in the film that you can truly “root” for, not one person who passes the sniff test as a “hero.” We spend the most time with Duke but he’s the furthest thing we’d want from a protector. Ditto Officers de Luca and Holmes, a potential sexual assailant, on the one hand, and a cop so dirty that she even “feeds” on her own peers, on the other. The closest we get to an “innocent” cop in the film is Rough who wins by default: he doesn’t really do anything terrible (outside of some hanky-panky with his neighbor’s married wife, that is) but he also doesn’t lift a finger to help anyone, least of all the poor dying guy sitting in his living room.
Films like Wrong Cops walk a very fine line: on one hand, they only work spectacularly well if they push the envelope as far as it will go. On the other hand, however, there a definite difference between crudity with a point (see Blazing Saddles) and crude-for-its-own-sake (see pretty much any Troma film). Earlier this year, I lambasted The Comedy, a hateful hipster-skewering/lauding film that also featured Eric Wareheim in a prominent role. In that case, I was never sure which side of the issue the filmmakers were actually on: more often than not, The Comedy seemed to be celebrating their terrible behavior, while also trying to half-heartedly tsk tsk it. There’s no such hemming and hawing in Dupieux’s film, however: he’s all-in on the various officers terrible behavior but he makes no bones about what unrepentant assholes these people are. There’s nothing to look up to, here, no sense of cool cats thumbing their noses at a square world: these people are part of the problem, not any part of the solution, and Dupieux knows it. He also, however, knows that they are a seriously funny bunch of misanthropes (similar to that lovable bunch of apes in It’s Always Sunny) and gives them plenty of room to work their funny magic.
And the film is funny. Very funny. Unlike the ultra-dry, high-concept Rubber or the wry, tricky Wrong, Wrong Cops is all loud, belching, farting id, the Sam Kinison to the previous films George Carlin. Perhaps this speaks more to my sense of humor than anything else (remember…Dupieux gets me) but I laughed my way through the entire film. Hard. There are so many great scenes in the film that picking out favorites is a little hard but there’s stuff that still makes me crack up, even as I type it now: Eric Wareheim’s hair getting blown back by a tornado of pepper spray from a decidedly bored wannabe “victim”; Mark Burnham tossing a drug-filled rat onto a diner counter like it was no big deal; Officers de Luca and Holmes walking into a murder scene and proceeding to raid the fridge, featuring the priceless exchange, “Aren’t you going to ask any questions?” “I do have a question: how old is this mozzarella?”; the record executive dismissing Officer Rough’s efforts with the revelation that he doesn’t think “anyone’s going to want to listen to music from a black, one-eyed, slightly monstrous DJ.” Wrong Cops is like a bottomless treasure chest, constantly spewing forth glittering new comedic jewels at frequent intervals.
The acting, across the board, is dead on. All of the cops are pretty much perfect but there isn’t a single actor/character in the film that feels off, regardless of how much/little screen time they get. Marilyn Manson, in particular, is utterly fantastic: he plays the part of David Dolores Frank with absolutely zero hint of his more famous day job and the result is a pretty realistic portrait of a hassled teen. It’s a brilliant, metaphysical move that should have been nothing more than silly sight gag (oh look: the Antichrist Superstar is wearing jeans and a t-shirt) but plays like an honest-to-god directorial choice. This, in a nutshell, seems to sum up the Dupieux method: treat everything, regardless of how absurd or meaningless, with the utmost respect. Dupieux may be a court jester but he’s a smart one, perhaps as smart as Terry Gilliam, in his own way.
As previously mentioned, the film looks great and the sparse, dry electro score compliments everything perfectly. Truth be told, I just can’t find anything to really dun the film for: if this was a baseball game, this would have been a home run, no questions about it. As such, I’m pretty much left with just deciding where the film fits into Dupieux’s existing oeuvre. I actually like it quite a bit more than Rubber, which is easily the most “difficult” film in Dupieux’s catalog, but not quite as much as Wrong. While Wrong Cops is a much funnier film than its predecessor, I also think it’s a slightly smaller film: Wrong was working with some truly mind-blowing concepts and metaphysics, whereas Wrong Cops is a peek into an insane world. By the time Ray Wise showed up in a role that couldn’t help but remind me of his turn as Satan in Reaper, I had begun to wonder whether Dupieux’s whole point was to plop us down into a kind of purgatory while his various characters continued their slow shuffle into Hell.
A sentient tire…a talking dog…a collection of the worst police officers in history…if there’s a method to Quentin Dupieux’s exquisite madness, I’ve yet to see it. This, of course, is what makes waiting for his next film so excruciating. At this rate, the next movie could, literally, be absolutely anything under the sun. That’s kind of terrifying, if you think about it, but that’s also pretty damn exhilarating. It’s what creativity should always be. It’s what the movies should always be. It’s why I’m still here…and it’s why you should be, too.