IFC reportedly hesitated about airing “Bullet in the Face,” for reasons that remain something of a mystery. Not because the series is wonderful, necessarily — it’s not, though it contains some amusing moments — but because it’s more ambitious than most of the channel’s original efforts. Described as the “most violent sitcom ever” by series creator Alan Spencer (of “Sledge Hammer!” renown), it’s not so much offensive as gleefully juvenile, broadly parodying graphic-novel noir like “Sin City” or Guy Ritchie films. While hardly for everyone, to a genre-savvy crowd that can appreciate the joke, score it as a near-miss.
The pilot, notably, looks better than the other half-hour episodes previewed, suggesting a bit of frontloading went into the process. Set in a fictional nightmare metropolis called Bruteville where a gang war’s raging, the series features a maniacal hit man, Gunter Vogler (Max Williams), who is ordered to kill the gun moll (Kate Kelton, a pretty fabulous femme fatale) with whom he’s sleeping by their mutual boss and her lover, Tannhauser (Eddie Izzard).
In the midst of a shootout, Gunter, who speaks with a German accent straight out of “Hogan’s Heroes,” gets a you-know-what in the face and awakens in the hospital. Turns out in the melee he murdered a cop, and the dead man’s mug was used to replace his own damaged one. Now the police are eager to deploy him — and his thirst for vengeance — against the mob.
This leaves Gunter with an angry sidekick (Neil Napier) prone to bursting into tears, who was the slain cop’s partner; and a boss, Commissioner Braden (Jessica Steen), who favors skin-tight leather. The oddball gallery also includes Eric Roberts as Racken, the rival mob chief, who enjoys killing people — including his own henchmen — and taking commemorative pictures.
Spencer clearly knows his way around incongruous potboiler dialogue (“You’re acting like a snail on a wet Friday,” Tannhauser says), but most of the gags involve Gunter being an unrepentant sociopath, transforming every situation into a double entendre about getting laid or killing someone.
It’s all played at a wildly cartoonish level — from reducing women to sex toys to the dollops of blood spraying across the screen — promiscuously firing off jokes, and at times making a long journey from set-up to punchline.
“Bullet’s” satiric bent dovetails with other recent IFC efforts — think “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and “Bunk,” which spoof talk- and gameshows, respectively — which is also part of the problem. Perhaps that’s because poking at established genres feels inherently limited, inasmuch as you’re not making shows for people who like such fare but the subset able to relish laughing at them.
What remains puzzling, given the independent films that IFC regularly airs, is why the channel would get cold feet about the program’s excesses, before presenting the six half-hour episodes on successive nights in 90-minute bursts.
The show misfires in places, but having already loaded the chamber, why not give “Bullet” a legitimate shot?