It hurts me that people think that Quentin Dupieux makes surrealists films. It really does. And it’s not just a bunch of hipsters trying to sound smarter than they are. Film critics who really ought to know better have lauded him for his modern day surrealism. It hurts.
Let’s be clear: Quentin Dupieux does not make surrealist films. Got that? He does not make surrealist films. And if anyone tells you otherwise, you should hit them. Up until now, Dupieux’s filmography has consisted entirely of absurdist films, films that bring to mind Beckett rather than Dalí. But that has changed with his newest release. Wrong Cops is not an absurdist film; it’s just absurd.
I don’t mean that in a good way.
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Release Date: December 20, 2013
It starts off right. Duke (Mark Burnham) is sitting on the side of an alleyway when a kid with a bicycle shows up to buy some weed. Burnham played the cop in Dupieux’s last film, Wrong, and he reprises that character here. His only real emotion is vague annoyance, and tells the kid to shut up about his excuses for being late and give him the money. Or rather, put the money on the ground… then pick it up and give it to him. Duke takes the money and pulls out a dead rat covered in duct tape and hands it to the kid.
So far so good.
But then it gets weird: Instead of accepting this at face value, the kid is incredulous, wondering why exactly he was given a dead rat, and even once he is told that the drugs are inside, he still presses. I realized right there that this wasn’t going to be a typical Dupieux production. In an absurdist world, nobody asks those kinds of questions. Of course the pot-selling cop packages his product in dead rats. Why wouldn’t he? And don’t answer that question, or even think about it, for that reason. It doesn’t matter. (Think back to that opening monologue from Rubber. I find the explication of the “No reason” idea to be a bit too on-the-nose, but it serves as a decent introduction to the idea for those unfamiliar with the genre.)
This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the cops don’t seem to realize they’re not in an absurdist film. And one would assume that’s the point; it’s where the whole “Wrong Cops” idea comes from, but it doesn’t work. The clash between rationality and irrationality could work, but it doesn’t here, because it can’t even keep that up consistently.
In fact, the whole problem with the film can be summed up by a single sentence. One of the cops has called a woman to an open lot and pulls a gun on her and tells her to show him her breasts. She doesn’t comply (because, umm… what?), and he starts to complain. In his rantings, he says, “This might not be making perfect sense, but it makes sense up in my fucking brain.”
I wanted to punch a baby.
He didn’t even say the line correctly, getting flustered on the “be” and slurring it. It seems like a throwaway line, but it’s the most important thing that’s said in the entire film. Because no truly absurdist character would ever say anything like that.
The only one who is really in it for the long haul is Duke. Burnham’s performance is consistent, and his ignorance of both the rules of policing and general rules of human conduct at least fit with the way his character is presented. He seems to be playing a continuation of his character from Wrong, which would be all well and good, except for the fact that the character wasn’t built to be a protagonist. In Wrong, the cop shows up a couple of times to be weird and snarky and each moment is exciting because it’s short and new. The joke quickly wears thin when an entire film is centered around his antics. And when the rest of the tone is so inconsistent, it’s just painful to watch.
It doesn’t help that the film makes periodic allusions to Wrong without actually being related to it. From the name and the main character, it would be totally logical to assume that this is a side story in the same universe. It’s not… probably. The cast is full of familiar faces, but they’re playing different characters. Considering how frequently directors reuse actors, that’s not problematic. What is problematic is the five second cameo by Dolph, the lead from Wrong, and his dog, Paul. That decision does nothing to expand the world or ask any meaningful questions. It’s just stupid. Really, really stupid. Because Wrong Cops is worse than Wrong in every single way.
Wrong holds the distinction of being the only film I’ve ever scored a 95 or above. In our review guide, a 95 is extremely rare, and it requires the reviewer to have actually been changed by a film. They need to walk out of that movie with a notable change in the way they view cinema in general, what it is capable of and what they think its purpose can be. Rubber attempted to show that absurdist cinema could work, but it’s meandering made me wonder if the genre would only really work on the stage (and a full paragraph of my Wrong review is devoted to the idea of Rubber: The Play, which I still think would be amazing). Wrong, on the other hand, proved it could be done beyond a shadow of a doubt. That movie is a perfect realization of what absurdist cinema could and should be. I will love that movie until the day I die and sing its praises from every rooftop.
Wrong Cops takes all of the lessons clearly learned from Wrong and then throws them out the window. It’s not just a regression back to Rubber, because it goes so much farther in the opposite direction. In fact, it’s so bad, it makes me wonder if those previous films were flukes. In my review of Wrong, I called Quentin Dupieux a modern-day autuer, basing that on the stylistic similarities between that and Rubber, his previous project. I figured I would always know a Dupieux film when I saw it. Now I think that maybe I spoke too quickly, because Wrong Cops doesn’t have the same feeling that those others have, and that starts with just how cheap the whole production looks. I’ve seen YouTube videos with higher production values… a lot of them, and I don’t understand how that happened. Dupieux was director, cinematographer, and editor on all these films, which means that he was satisfied with this 100% subpar product, and I don’t understand why.
Maybe there’s no reason.
But if that’s what it’s come to, where the only interesting statement he can make is some weird meta-commentary on rationality in the process of making a film (if that’s even what he’s doing), then maybe it’s just time to give up. If it’s come to that point, then there’s nothing else to say, and he should stay silent.
But I don’t want to believe that. I want to believe that this film, for all of it’s many, many flaws, is just a speedbump, and whatever it is that Dupieux puts out next is a return to form. What Wrong Cops really is is proof that he cannot make a film in a regular-ish world. His absurdist ideals find their way in, infecting otherwise logical people, and making the whole thing feel haphazard and poorly thought out. It seems like he wants to be making something he’s not and can’t reconcile those two ideas.
I was ready to quit watching Wrong Cops twenty minutes in, ready to give essentially the same score as you see below, and call it a day. But I wanted to be sure that it really was the trainwreck I knew it to be. It never got better, and while it never really got worse, the novelty that had already worn off at 20 minutes was completely gone by minute 60, and by the time the credits rolled it was truly grating.
Don’t see Wrong Cops. There are a couple of laughs scattered throughout, but none of them garner more than a couple of “Ha”s. I wanted to laugh, to be pulled in to (or at least intentionally repelled by) this bizzaro world, but it didn’t happen. It just made me sad, seeing how far the mighty have fallen.