Jan 7, 2014

Review: "Wrong Cops" is too Corrupt to be Fun

Mark Burnham
One of the most enduring aspects of surrealist director Quentin Dupieux is how loyal he has been to the “no reason” mantra that he stated in Rubber. The sense is that things make no sense, and that is what sets his films apart. Despite having narrative structure, the rest of the content is pure chaos and challenges cinema with comedic weirdness. It may not always work, but ambitions sometimes trump quality in his films in ways that seem admirable. He makes the stories that he wants to, including his latest: a spin-off from the enjoyable Wrong called Wrong Cops. It may be his most grounded in realism, but it is also his most problematic.

As a whole, the film feels like Dupieux’s version of the Police Academy franchise by way of Training Day. The film features a crew of corrupt police officers as they deal with absurd situations. The most notable is a dying man who an officer passes onto various coworkers and gives the story a sense of unity. Much like Police Academy, the merit comes in the gimmicky performances. Unlike Police Academy, there isn’t a moral anchor to make this feel like a legitimate police department. Everyone is insane and it makes the believability somewhat frayed, notably as there isn’t any back story to justify its shadiness. They just happen to be that way.
However, the Dupieux magic manages to survive in the general premise. Duke (Mark Burnham) manages to be one of the most ridiculously corrupt cops in movie history. Selling drugs in rat carcasses and playing bad techno music in his underwear after kidnapping people, he manages to be the aggressive appeal of the bad cop realm. He is incredibly ignorant, racist, and homophobic to the point of annoyance. His bully behavior may be laid on too thick at times to the point that the other performers look saintly by nature. The humor may work contextually in the bad cop premise established, but it also hides the fact that this film is a totem pole of corrupt characters without a base of morality.
With exception to a brief cameo by Jack Plotnik, it is hard to decipher this as a spin-off of Wrong. There are a lot of problematic elements simply because there isn’t a resolution to counteract the badness. The events happen without much resolution or any momentous achievement by a single character. Even if the film attempts to tie into his other films, it is about as loose as most of the story, which plays like comedic vignettes that are hit and miss. The film also attempts to explore the meta realm of cinema-to-realism by analyzing how cop films work. Unlike the brilliant moments of Rubber, these comments are established and never resolved. It could just be that like the cops, it is meant to be lazy.
Even the soundtrack almost feels like it was given meta commentary. After Rough (Eric Judor) plays a demo to a potential buyer (Kurt Fuller), it turns into a scene detailing how bad the music is. Dupieux’s musical alter-ego Mr. Oizo provides the score consisting of cheap sounding synthesizer with quick, driving notes. As the scene progresses, it is hard to dissect the comments towards Rough from the actual soundtrack, as it feels cheap and not as inventively weird as Mr. Oizo’s work on Wrong. By commenting on the soundtrack, the film almost seems to be apologizing for it. In a sense, the performers also seem to apologize for Wrong Cops with these analogies by slowly dissecting various flaws in the story that are supposed to be meta, but feel more like production notes.
There is some charm in the resulting film still, notably in the dying man (Daniel Quinn) subplot in which he gets passed along from cop to cop. Even if his only purpose is to be a burden on the corrupt cops, it is delightfully weird and gives the story some semblance. It has all of the right amounts of absurdity to give the film a little moments of humor. There are intimate moments between the man and the various characters that feel strangely personal and paint a picture of the police deconstruction comedy that could have been. It is small moments like this that give the film a sense of structure in an otherwise meandering story.
The film is enjoyable, but in fleeting ways. Dupieux continues to be an intriguingly strange director with a lot of charm, but Wrong Cops just needed a more concrete story. It needed a purpose for these characters to be so foul. Duke may be enjoyably awful, but it doesn’t justify everyone else having no respect for the law. The film closes with Duke questioning a woman about misinterpreting his profound statement. It sums up the film nicely in suggesting that there are great moments in the incoherent story, but as a whole it leaves an unsatisfying confusion. The film’s hit and miss nature makes it overall a disappointment to the “no reason” way of storytelling in that by taking away the surreal elements, there doesn’t feel like a good enough reason to make this film.

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