Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong Cops, a spin-off of the writer/director/cinematographer/composer/editor’s psychic dognapper comedy Wrong, improves on its predecessor by being effectively plotless. Surreal set-ups are Dupieux’s stock-in-trade, and trying to anchor them to meta-movie commentary (as in his killer-tire movie Rubber), or semi-ironic sentimentality (as in Wrong) only gets in the way. Without a pesky thematic through-line, the humor becomes more focused.
Wrong Cops is a “does exactly what it says on the tin” movie, consisting of absurdist vignettes in which assorted LAPD officers (played by Mark Burnham, Eric Wareheim, Eric Judor, and Arden Myrin) do everything except police work—selling drugs on street corners (packaged inside of dead rats to “avoid suspicion”), harassing pedestrians, refusing to investigate a crime scene, and listening to lots of house music. Rules of space, time, and mortality are ignored, and everyone speaks with the sort of deliberate cadence usually associated with David Lynch. (Burnham’s delivery of the line “This is where music happens: in your guts, in your organs, Africa”—shouted while an electronic beat blasts in the background—has a definite Dennis Hopper-in-Blue Velvet quality.)
The result is, unsurprisingly, a bit scattershot. Dupieux still can’t figure out what makes women funny; he usually ends up locating the absurd in a man’s sexual attraction to a female character, rather than in the character herself. The closest the movie has to an overarching plotline—involving an ex-gay-porn-star named Sunshine (Steve Little)—results in its weakest gags.
But when the humor works—as in any scene featuring the imposing, convincingly cop-like Duke (Burnham, who played the same role in Wrong) or one-eyed electronic musician Rough (Judor)—it produces a singular comic effect. The absurdity is heightened by the intermingling of classic underground movie humor—intentional fakeness, mockery of authority figures that’s more bizarre than subversive—and Dupieux’s crisp, sunny, almost formalist visual sensibility. In other words, Wrong Cops does what underground movies used to do: It gives the viewer the sense that what they’re watching is thoroughly wrong in terms of both behavior and style. What’s missing is the transgressive kick, the sense that a real boundary has been crossed. Without it, absurdist humor is “merely” funny—though, of course, funny still goes a very long way.