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Creator: Alan Spencer
Cast: Max E. Williams, Neil Napier, Jessica Steen, Kate Kelton, Eddie Izzard, Eric Roberts
Length: 30 min per episode
Disks: 1 DVD
Label: SHOUT! Factory
Release Date: January 21, 2014
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Audio commentary by Alan Spencer
Isn’t it funny that violent action shows and movies are one of the most popular subgenres of entertainment, yet mix a bit of comedy in there and people get their tail feathers a bit ruffled? Sadly, this has been the case for Alan Spencer’s latest project, six part series Bullet in the Face; with reviews coming in as mixed when it originally aired on IFC. It seems lashing in a heavy dose of inappropriate humor amongst the carnage was a step too far for some people, ‘the most violent sitcom in history’ was a phrase being bandied around the internet, with some reviewers commenting on the ‘poor taste’ of the jokes involved. That aside, this is one show destined to become a cult classic, and after watching all the episodes back to back because I could not get enough of it, it is easy to see why.
The action takes place in a fictional neo-noir dystopian city called Brutteville, where the psychopathic and hilariously outrageous criminal Gunther Vogel literally gets a bullet in the face in a botched bank robbery and ends up having facial reconstructive surgery at the hands of the local Police Department. In a bizarre turn of events, he is given the face of the cop he killed during the heist and partnered up with said cop’s ex-partner Lt. Hagerman on the promise he can have his original skin back if he helps the department bring down his former boss, the agoraphobic and snow globe stroking Tannhausan (Eddie Izzard).
What follows is a high-octane, violent, offbeat comedy with more twists and turns than a snake on amphetamines, packed to the hilt with plenty of inappropriate humor. If you are one of those people who laughs at things you probably shouldn’t, then this is the show for you, because it certainly delivers on that score; from fighting pregnant women, drug-crazed high school kids, suicidal priests, rivaling crime lords, killer theater troupes, deadly chess, and emo cops, the one thing that can be said is Bullet in the Face is, if nothing more, heavily unpredictable, original, and fun.
Alan Spencer who is known for 80’s cult show Sledge Hammer! has blended a number of themes together to make something larger than life, and highly stylized; strongly influenced by noir crime drama and action-thriller, with comic book leanings and a parody edge. This will certainly appeal to lovers of J-Splatstick (think Ichi The Killer), Sin City, and those who like their comedy with a dark mood. Spencer takes the best, and worst, elements from the stereotyped characters who tend to frequent action movies and crime thrillers, the vengeful cop, the egotistical crime lord, and blows them up out of all proportion to great effect.
In keeping with the overall theme, the performances here are loaded with tints of melodrama, camp, and craziness, a high point being Eddie Izzard in one of his silliest roles since he played a disco dancing rogue in Mystery Men, as the narcissist crime-lord Johann Tannhauser. He is obsessed with control, power, murder, chess and, for some reason, snow globes. Throughout the story, Tannhauser frantically tries to keep tabs on his femme fatale girlfriend Martine (Kate Kelton) all the while, warring with rival old school mob boss Racken (Eric Roberts). When he isn’t checking Martine’s phone, he is sending out his post-op transgender bodyguards to pursue her. Tannhauser has a right to be worried though, who could trust the double-crossing, venomous black widow Martine, this gorgeously gothic mistress has some very dark secrets that she will protect at any cost. Then there is the star of the show, Max Williams as Gunther Vogel, the bad boy turned unwilling cop who is never short of a highly inappropriate one liner or comment for any situation, psychopathic, hilarious, and completely over the top. As for the supporting cast, they all play their roles with a fantastic energy which ensures there are no weak links, and adds to the colorful nature of the Bullet in the Face character base. I have to say, I really enjoyed Neil Napier as the emo bromancing cop, Lt Karl Hagerman, and the little in-jokes as to the nature of his relationship with his former, and recently deceased partner.
With only 6 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each in running time, Bullet in the Face has a wonderful bite sized quality that is easily digested and leaves you wanting more. In a generation of 22 season long shows that drag on and on and need an entire week of not eating, sleeping, or leaving the house to view in full, this comes as a refreshing change of pace. I initially put on one episode and had planned on watching them on consecutive nights, however soon found myself engrossed with each episode having a strong moreish taste; three hours later I had plunged through the entire lot. My only disappointment was there were not more episodes, and the overall ending left things open for a second season, which I wanted to watch immediately but sadly does not exist, (yet anyway).
Originally aired by IFC (Portlandia), the six-part dark comedy show Bullet in the Face initially caused some controversy when aired on mainstream TV due to its violent elements, although it did establish a core fan base. For those who missed it first time around, or for fans alike, Shout! Factory has now released the entire season on DVD boxset (Region 1) in NTSC Widescreen 1. 78:1. The season’s relatively short running time (135 mins) can be easily digested, with each episode clocking in just under 30 minutes.
Sadly the release is lacking on extras, with a director’s commentary for each episode by Alan Spencer being the only addition. While Spencer is informative and interesting, it would have been nice to have seen some more content included.
Bullet in the Face is not going to be for everyone and has already made waves in the reviewing community, with opinion being divided. It all comes down to whether you can stomach a good dose of violence in with your comedy, or can appreciate a good send up of popular action and crime genres, and if so then this is going to have some appeal. I can imagine this becoming a cult favorite, and it is already establishing a strong fan base. Top performances by all, funny, innovative, and extremely cool, Bullet in the Face was like a breath of fresh air and I for one am hoping for a second season.