Only the most forgiving connoisseurs of le bad cinema will find much right about “Wrong Cops,” a monstrously unfunny “Police Academy”/“Reno 911” knockoff directing with just enough winking self-awareness to seem both insipid and pretentious. Originally presented as a 45-minute work-in-progress at Sundance this year, this latest provocation by French electronic music artist and filmmaker Quentin Dupieux shows little of the off-kilter savoir faire that earned his previous “Rubber” and “Wrong” a not-undeserved cult of admirers. Outside the odd midnight screening here and there, the pic should head straight to movie jail without passing Go.
Conceived by Dupieux as a standalone vehicle for the questionable comic gifts of star Mark Burnham, here reprising his policeman role from “Wrong,” the pic revolves around a group of disaffected Los Angeles cops who bungle more cases than they solve and pay the law about as much mind as does a cow to the flies swarming about its tail. First seen selling bags of pot concealed in the bodies of dead rats, slovenly officer Duke (Burnham) spends most of “Wrong Cops” trying to dispose of the body of a neighbor he’s accidentally shot, and who now lies bleeding to death in the trunk of Burnham’s car.
Duke recruits desk cop Sunshine (Steve Little) to do the dirty deed in exchange for canceling his unpaid pot debt, but when the latter finds a duffel bag full of cash buried in his backyard, he reneges. At which point, fellow officers Renato (Eric Wareheim) and his partner Shirley (Arden Myrin) try blackmailing Sunshine with — what else? — photographic evidence of his gay-pornography past. Another, only slightly less groan-inducing vignette concerns the efforts of cop Rough (Eric Judor) to break into the music world with a truly horrific Casio-keyboard instrumental. (As usual, Dupieux himself composed pic’s electronic score under his recording name, Mr. Oizo.)
None of this rates so much as a grin or a giggle, but judging by the endless repetition of gags (if there’s one pot-stuffed dead rat here, there’s a dozen), Dupieux either thinks it’s all rather hilarious or means it to be so unfunny that we laugh at the meta-hilarity of it all. Either way you slice it, “Wrong Cops” serves mainly to remind that making an enjoyably bad movie — whether intentionally or not — isn’t as easy as it looks. Tommy Wiseau has nothing to worry about here.
Pointless cameos by the likes of Eric Roberts, Marilyn Manson (cast, in one of the pic’s typically absurdist gestures, as a high-school student) and “Twin Peaks” alum Ray Wise suggest a grasping for some sort of hipster cachet. Production values seem designed to evoke homevideos of the pre-HD era — a gambit at which the pic indisputably triumphs.