The Bottom Line
- Stars Max Williams, Neil Napier, Kate Kelton, Jessica Steen, Eddie Izzard, Eric Roberts
- Created by Alan Spencer
- Airs August 16 and 17, 2012, at 10 p.m. EST on IFC
Not that the people behind Bullet in the Face mean for anyone to take the show seriously in any way. It’s obviously meant to be absurdly over the top, with the gory violence just one exaggerated element in creator Alan Spencer’s vision. Spencer was behind the 1980s series Sledge Hammer!, a spoof of cop shows that lasted two low-rated seasons but has since built quite a cult following. Like Sledge Hammer!, Bullet in the Face is clearly a spoof, although instead of taking on the modern proliferation of TV crime procedurals, it parodies grim, overly intense thrillers from Seven to The Dark Knight, where stone-faced ultra-masculine detectives investigate grisly crimes in cities that are perpetually under cloud cover. With its heavily stylized, CGI-filled look and reliance on pun-based humor, Bullet in the Face is like Sin City meets Police Squad!.
Its comically convoluted plot starts with master criminal Gunter Vogler (Max Williams), an unhinged psychopath who works as a hitman for crime lord Tannhauser (Eddie Izzard) in the fictional city of Bruteville. Gunter is also sleeping with Tannhauser’s girlfriend Martine (Kate Kelton), who betrays Gunter during a robbery with, well, a bullet in the face. The police capture Gunter and replace his mangled face with that of a veteran detective Gunter killed during the robbery, and then recruit the reluctant Gunter to pose as a cop in order to bring down Tannhauser. That’s just the setup for the first episode, and that doesn’t even account for Tannhauser’s rival crime lord Racken (Eric Roberts) or Martine’s pregnancy and dual identity.
It’s intentionally ridiculous, and Spencer makes only cursory efforts to string together a coherent plot. Each episode finds Gunter and his new cop partner Lt. Hagerman (Neil Napier) investigating a different gruesome crime, while Tannhauser and Racken scheme behind the scenes to take over the city and bring each other down. Although there’s no shortage of groan-worthy wordplay and lame double entendres, Bullet in the Face isn’t a joke-a-second spoof. Instead it’s more like a cheap, campy exploitation movie, whose humor comes more from its intentional awfulness than from actual jokes.
Every performance on the show is insanely over the top, none more so than Williams’ as Gunter. Effecting a ridiculous-sounding German accent, he chews all of the flimsy-looking scenery and contorts his face like he’s auditioning to play the Joker. Napier is just as bad, and Kelton can’t quite manage the balance between sultry and shrill as the femme fatale. Roberts might as well just be acting in one of the many actual B-movies on his resume, and his indefinable accent for Racken sounds like he just had a stroke. Only veteran comedian Izzard comes away with any dignity intact, because he actually slightly underplays his megalomaniacal crime lord.
Thanks to its bizarre approach and nearly nonsensical storytelling, Bullet in the Face has a sort of train-wreck fascination to it, and is the kind of unique fiasco that will probably garner a cult following. But given the way IFC is burying it, it’s likely to end up with the same fate as Spencer’s last show: all but forgotten by everyone except a handful of devotees.