Musician-filmmaker Quentin Dupieux’s “Wrong,” a curious tale about a man searching for his missing dog in a suburban bubble where everything is a little askew, has some laughs, but it doesn’t take long for the absurdist humor to pall among a pileup of nonsensical ideas that would be funnier if grounded in a less hazy concept. From the start, Dupieux seems more delighted with the pic’s forced quirkiness than most audiences will be. Rather than expanding on the success of “Rubber,” the multihyphenate’s previous film, “Wrong” is likely to struggle for the same theatrical exposure. Home-format sales will be brighter.
An opening tableaux in which a man takes a squat on a highway in broad daylight is backgrounded by a flaming van and idling firefighters — when an alarm clock goes off. It’s a disconcerting 7:60 a.m., the usual wake-up time for Dolph (Jack Plotnick). But to his bewilderment, beloved dog Paul, his sole companion, is nowhere to be found. He goes through his customary paces, clocking in (despite having been fired three months ago) at an office where there’s perpetual, unexplained indoor rainfall; consulting with gardener Victor (Gallic thesp Victor Judor), who informs him that a backyard palm tree has mysteriously turned into a pine; and chatting up neighbor Mike (Regan Burns), who abruptly leaves for parts unknown. (Mike’s occasional dispatches from the road rep the pic’s most pointless and flat digressions.)
Eventually cryptic messages lead Dolph to Master Chang (William Fichtner), author of “My Life, My Dog, My Strength,” which among other things advocates human-to-pet telepathy. This oddball guru explains his company has taken to kidnapping pets, so that their owners might love them yet more fervently upon being reunited. Unfortunately, through a snafu, the kidnapped Paul is now simply missing, with Chang putting a “top detective” (Steve Little) on the case.
Meanwhile, a meandering phone conversation Dolph has with pizza delivery operator Emma (Alexis Dziena) leads to amour, mistaken identity and problems for Dolph.
As writer, director, d.p., editor and composer, Dupieux is nothing if not sure of his vision. But the deadpan wackiness that was more or less sustained through “Rubber” and 2007’s “Steak” doesn’t stretch so well in “Wrong.” While eccentric, most of the ideas here have little payoff. By the time the pic has resorted to a turd’s-eye-view joke, eccentricity alone has ceased to be a plus. The pic contains a surprisingly sweet resolution, all the more so because nearly all prior events have been variably cruel, particularly toward our protag. But Dupieux’s deliberately pokey pacing makes getting there feel awfully long.
The performers all have their moments, particularly antic Judor (a past collaborator). But the material gives them limited opportunities, and Dupieux doesn’t seem to encourage much improvisational riffing.
Shot in nondescript Los Angeles locations, the pic has a washed-out-color look that’s not very inviting. Other contributions are solid, the standout being soundtrack music by Gallic psych band Tahiti Boy and Dupieux’s own alter-ego Mr. Oizo; both add retro and melodramatic notes that bring a certain ironic frisson.