Friday, May 26, 2017

'Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie' Review: Meanders Around Trying to Solve What It Wants to Be


Four Star Rating: **
Starring: Jeff Garlin, Natasha Lyonne, Christine Woods, William Stanford Davis, Amy Sedaris
Director: Jeff Garlin
Screenplay: Jeff Garlin & Andrea Seigel
Composer: Ben Folds
Cinematographer: Jason Blount
Editor: Jon Corn
Genre: Comedy, Satire, Mystery
Rated: R - Course Language, Mature Content, Violence
Release Date: May 5, 2017
Run Time: 81 minutes

Right away in the pre-credit scene, Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie declares itself an irreverent murder mystery by having the actor Steven Weber introduce himself and reveal he will be playing the murderer. This is a call back to the Colombo TV Movie series that also revealed the murderer in the first scene, which eliminates the 'whodunit' element of other traditional mysteries. It also sets up the viewer for a satirical and comical approach to the classic genre by sending the fourth wall crumbling down in a mere 30 seconds (though there is no talking to audience or recognition this is a performance after that jarring opening). While it succeeds in being the atypical murder mystery that it promises, it unfortunately does it by struggling to define exactly what it wants to be.

The movie is directed, written (along with Andrea Seigel) and stars Jeff Garlin who is a well-travelled comedic actor who is probably best known for his roles in Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Goldbergs. He is immensely likable here as the prototypical detective who is approaching the end of his career. He is single and lives alone with his large dog that he adores, which provides scenes where Garlin demonstrates a tenderness and sincerity that isn't prevalent in much of his previous works. He also plays the straight-man with great comedic timing with his various encounters with the eccentric cast of characters.

The case is set-up like those typical late-night murder mysteries of the 1970s and 1980s, when Detective Gene Handsome (Garlin) and his partner Detective Fleur Scozzari (Natasha Lyonne) are on the scene of a ghastly murder where a young girl has been beheaded and hacked to several pieces to then be arranged into the Star of David. Such a grotesque crime scene is juxtaposed with several big comedy moments with a few detectives in training coming up with far-fetched theories on how the murder happened and then a Japanese tour bus coming by with excited tourists trying to snap up photos of the crime ignoring detective protests. It is a silly scene that works with its well-paced jabs of unexpected one-liners and character reactions.

The movie loses focus on the case and becomes a random collection of scene about Handsome's daily life. A murder mystery interspersed with a detectives personal life has worked really well in the past, but this time suffers from each scene having drastic tonal differences and not tying into a cohesive narrative. There are a few fun scenes like when Handsome argues over dog poop with former detective and now private investigator Durante (Eddie Pepitone), or when Handsome agrees to babysit a diva-ish aspiring dancer, or his trading quips with coroner Lester (William Stanford Davis).It suffers when it resorts to painful broad raunchy comedy like Durante's wife (a very under-used Leah Remini) using an accordion for sex, or Scozzari's entire character defined by her sexual obsessions, or Handsome's boss Lieutenant Tucker's (Amy Sedaris) failed attempts to seduce him at work (is sexual harassment funny when gender roles are reversed? Nope).

The scattered screenplay is disappointing because the movie does evoke an old school murder mystery that has playful twists. Ben Folds' score has the familiar notes of an Agatha Christie adaptation or Kojak episode, but gives it a heavy yet soft thumping sound to match the larger but lovable protagonist. There is also the classic scene of the detective trying to break into a house to find a clue but he does it in a less suave and cat-like way than we may be used to seeing. The final Colombo-like confrontation shows Handsome's wit and prowess but also how ill-equipped he was to protect himself. Though that climatic scene suffers from Weber's really broad performance and his character sliding too far on the scale of dimwits.

There is enough skill shown here to prove the skill of Jeff Garlin as a director. His best scene is when Handsome has his neighbour, Nora Vanderwheel over, and the two open up to each other about their fears and dreams. They were brought together because the girl murdered happened to be Nora's babysitter, but as they share, it is clear they have a deeper connection. It is a quiet and tender moment that has authentic emotion and is quite sweet but still sprinkles in understated humour to keep things light. It is a scene that digs into the real characters and has them being honest and open. This moment is the good movie that I want to see from Garlin.

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