Genius Products // 2007 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 18th, 2008
The rules of dating have just been reinvented.
From Paul Soter, one of the minds behind the Broken Lizard troupe, comes a romantic comedy that tries to be charming and funny but manages neither.
There's this guy Neil (Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins). He owns a VHS rental store and miraculously isn't starving and homeless. Neil is the anti-corporate-entertainment crusader, determined to offer his customers an "intimate" movie-going experience. One day an attractive woman (Lucy Liu, Kill Bill: Volume 1) enters his store. Her name is Violet and she's a free spirit -- that is, she's weird and chipper.
Neil is loving on her almost immediately and the two strike up an oddball romance. Normally low-key and complacent, Neil is dragged kicking and screaming into Violet's world of running around and eating other people's picnic lunches and screaming and, I don't know, more screaming. Violet doesn't use her inside voice much.
Look, I may not be the all-world authority on the romantic comedy genre, but I do think I'm pretty well-versed in what it's like to have 90 minutes of your life snatched away from you. My tenure at DVD Verdict has produced that experience many times. I am a pro at DVD suffering, and with Watching the Detectives, I suffered.
Here's the first problem and it's a big one: I didn't laugh once. I'm not exactly sure what the rules say about romantic comedies and how funny they should be. You can't skate entirely on "charm," right? If a "comedy" is the root word in your genre, you should at least try to live up to description somehow. Words have meaning, don't they? Pardon my snark, but I'm still smarting from the humorless beat-down Watching the Detectives laid on me. This thing is anti-funny, in that I gradually grew resentful of the characters, simply because they had the unfortunate responsibility of delivering the lines that hurt my brain.
It could be a matter of personal taste. Maybe the prospect of watching Cillian Murphy dressing up as a rock star and playing guitar in front of a crowd of cardboard cutouts while Lucy Liu fires up a cigarette lighter, waves it around and accidentally sets fire to one of the cutouts seems amazingly hilarious to you. Or, if you're like me, a scene like that which is both out of character for what we're supposed to believe the main guy's personality is like (reserved, spooked by the "free spirit" thing) and never-ending is about as funny as an episode of Animal Cops, then chances are very, very good you will be as much as a frowny-face as I was. I guess Paul Soter was the Broken Lizard troupe member that wrote the stuff I didn't laugh at.
Much of my sour attitude can be traced to Lucy Liu, whose work I was apathetic towards when it was action/drama-centric, but since she busted out the spunky, airy @#$% here, I am sad to report out relationship has hit the roughest of patches. Violet is a tedious character, and her high jinks grow weary as the film crawls on (Hey look, she's jumping off a dumpster to dunk a basketball! And now she's got her friends pretending to be cops to give Neil a hard time! Oh, now she's switching the DVDs and cases in a video store! What a crack-up!) But when Liu gives actions and voice to the character, it all becomes unbearable. She's bubbly and giddy, but Holy Cow is it grating. Plus she's tasked with pushing the majority of the comedy as Neil is primarily the straight man, you know, totally exasperated with her shenanigans. More than once I asked myself why he constantly put up with it. The cleavage would be my guess.
There's a last-minute plot twist at the end that's semi-interesting, but it's rushed and abrupt and comes nowhere near compensating for the aggravation.
A bare-bone disc awaits: a clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital and nothing else.
It's been rare that I've wanted so badly for a movie to end while I was watching it.
Guilty. Go away.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated