Monday, May 8, 2017


(US - 2017)

Directed by Jeff Garlin. Written by Andrea Seigel and Jeff Garlin. Cast: Jeff Garlin, Natasha Lyonne, Christine Woods, Steven Weber, Amy Sedaris, Eddie Pepitone, Leah Remini, Timm Sharp, Brad Morris, Ava Acres, Kaley Cuoco, Joe Kenda, Hailee Lautenbach, Dave Sheridan, William Standford Davis. (Unrated, 80 mins)

Best known for his years as Larry David's manager and best friend on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM as well as for the ABC series THE GOLDBERGS, Jeff Garlin is one of those comedian's comedians, a guy respected by his peers and with a lot of friends in the business. Garlin's attempts at branching out on his own, writing, directing, and starring in indie films, have yielded mixed results. 2007's I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH was a surprisingly heartfelt MARTY homage that did a nice job if balancing the discomfort comedy of CURB with some genuinely solid dramatic work from Garlin as an overweight aspiring comedian who lives with his mother and is trying to find his place in the world. By contrast, 2013's abysmal DEALIN' WITH IDIOTS was a near-laughless, self-indulgent dud that was little more than an excuse for Garlin and some comedy buddies to hang out and pretend they were making a movie.

Garlin's latest effort as a writer/director/star is the Netflix Original film HANDSOME: A NETFLIX MYSTERY MOVIE, which doesn't have much of a mystery since it opens with a fourth-wall-breaking intro that has co-star Steven Weber announcing "I'm Steven Weber, and I play the killer in this Netflix mystery movie and multi-platform event" before the opening credits roll. It's not exactly the best way to keep the audience on the edge of its seat in anticipation like, say, Edward Van Sloan at the beginning of FRANKENSTEIN. Garlin is affable L.A. homicide detective Gene Handsome, who catches a case with his partner Det. Fleur Scozzari (Natasha Lyonne) that's conveniently close to home: his new single mom neighbor Nora's (Christine Woods of HELLO LADIES) babysitter Heather Dromgoole (Hailee Lautenbach) is found decapitated, with the rest of her body dismembered and arranged into a macabre Star of David on the front lawn of famous movie star Talbert Bacorn (Weber). The investigation leads Handsome and Scozzari to sleazy Lloyd Vanderwheel (Timm Sharp), the owner of a fireworks distribution center called Fireworks! Fireworks! Fireworks!, who hired Heather to spy on his ex-wife--wait for it--Nora, to get dirt on her for an upcoming court case over custody of their daughter Carys (Ava Acres). Of course, Handsome starts to have feelings for Nora, while nympho Scozzari keeps hooking up with Lloyd, who's still a suspect. But the trail keeps taking them back to the arrogant Bacorn, the kind of asshole who pronounces the word "premiere" as "prem-yay."

Judging from its structure, HANDSOME looks a lot like a feature-length pilot for a potential Netflix series. Handsome and Scozzari have the kind of back-and-forth banter that TV cop partners have; Handsome is in charge of a group of incompetent rookie detectives--headed by the hapless Burt Jurpis (Brad Morris), who sees the condition of Heather's body and her severed head at the crime scene and immediately declares "This looks like a driveby"--who seem to be a wacky supporting ensemble but vanish from the movie; and Handsome is always getting his ass chewed out by his boss, Lt. Tucker (Amy Sedaris), who's also pretty brazen about sexually harassing him ("By the way...my tubes are tied"). HANDSOME has some legitimately funny bits in the early going, with humor ranging from quirky to raunchy, whether it's Handsome citing SAN ANDREAS as his favorite movie ("Best absurdity ever!" he raves), Scozzari's unfiltered commentary ("I'd bend him over and eat popcorn out of his ass," she says of Bacorn, and later, after a hookup with Lloyd, "My pussy can't handle more than four toes anymore"), or that the entire mystery hinges on a particularly slippery brand of body cream, which is something straight out of the Larry David school of comedy. But Garlin's script is all over the place, and it just flatlines once the story kicks into gear, especially since Garlin ensures from the first scene that there's no mystery in this "Netflix Mystery Movie."

HANDSOME can't decide if it wants to be a straight procedural (for a movie purporting to be a comedy, Heather's murder seems like it belongs in SE7EN); a spoof of hard-boiled detective movies; an introspective, I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH character study with Handsome a schlubby guy who just wants to settle down and have a family; a ripoff of INHERENT VICE with its ridiculous character names and the recurring image of a woman dancing with hula hoops serving as a Sortilege of sorts who may or may not be real; and a lot of quippy smartassery in a Hollywood setting that's the unmistakable KISS KISS BANG BANG and THE NICE GUYS territory of Shane Black. Garlin even borrows the "self-loathing Jew" line from CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM which, in all fairness since he's a creative partner on the show as well, might've been his in the first place. With its supporting cast and cameos by comedian Eddie Pepitone, Leah Remini as Handsome's sultry, accordian-playing neighbor, HOMICIDE HUNTER host Joe Kenda, and Kaley Cuoco as herself, HANDSOME has plenty of Garlin pals onboard but it's no INHERENT VICE, KISS KISS BANG BANG or THE NICE GUYS, and its jarring tonal shifts constantly stall any momentum it comes close to generating, making it feel like an interminable slog even at just 80 minutes. Garlin can be funny as hell in the right situation, and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM wouldn't be the same without him. But movies don't seem to play to his strengths, and aside from some occasional jokes that land in the opening third, the best that can be said for HANDSOME: A NETFLIX MYSTERY MOVIE is that it's at least a marginal improvement over DEALIN' WITH IDIOTS, an assessment that may very well set a new standard for "damning with faint praise."

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