Based on Michael Allred’s cult comic book series “Grafik Muzik,” “G-Men From Hell” offers a modestly mounted but colorful, determinedly off-center mix of parodic noir and absurdist fantasy. Like Christopher Coppola’s prior features (“Bel Air,” “Palmer’s Pickup,” “Deadfall”), pic is more propelled by hit-and-miss, quirky humor and in-joke casting than its mild narrative momentum. While never flat-out hilarious, results are diverting enough to find berth in homevid and cable markets.
Jack Webb-style poker face Dean Crept (William Forsythe) and his marginally better socialized partner Mike Mattress (Tate Donovan) are FBI agents whose corrupt, hard-ass tactics have gotten them “retired” via car bomb at pic’s start.
Disgruntled by their prompt delivery to a tacky, flaming Hell, the duo steal a magic crystal from Satan himself (suave vet crooner Robert Goulet) and sneak back to Earth. There, they hope, one good deed will earn them a return ticket to the other, upmarket afterlife.
Still, old habits die hard. Setting up shop as private detectives in a vaguely late-’40s quasi-Los Angeles, protags waste no time shaking down erstwhile informant Buster (Bobcat Goldthwait) for living expenses. This ends in latter’s shooting death and puts the LAPD on the ex-feds’ tail.
That’s not an unfamiliar position for proud “gay leather dungeon master” Lt. Langdon (an enjoyably over-the-top Gary Busey) and partner Det. Dalton (Zach Galligan).
Meanwhile, Crept and Mattress are hired by wealthy Greydon Lake (Barry Newman) to spy on his bombshell wife, Gloria (Vanessa Angel), whom he suspects of cheating. She also engages their services, albeit about five minutes before Mr. Lake turns up dead.
Suspects include not just the less-than-bereft widow, but also the late millionaire’s weird, hand-puppet-wielding butler (Charles Fleischer). There’s also mad scientist type Dr. Boifford (David Huddleston), whose experiments had been bankrolled by the deceased.
The Frankensteinian doc resuscitates bewildered Buster by placing his organs in a pink robot body. Crept and Mattress must sort out all this double-crossing chaos before their Devil-decreed deadline, or back to Hell they go.
Goofy, nonsensical “mystery” is pretty much a loose excuse for oddball comedics, which are entertaining if seldom laugh-out-loud inspired.
Actors seem to be having fun, with humor often deriving as much from their against-type stunt casting (e.g., Goulet) as from actual perfs. Alongside Busey, comics Goldthwait and Paul Rodriguez contribute the most giddily energetic turns, while leads Forsythe and Donovan maintain an apt, granite-like deadpan.
Though far less expansive than major studio comic-strip adaptations, pic contrives a nice funhouse-noir atmosphere, with lurid colors and exaggerated retro style evident from set and costume designs to cheesy f/x. Cinematographer Dean Lent’s tilted camera angles sometimes recall the old “Batman” TV show.
Sum effect is like a lower-budgeted, less prosthetics-dependent equivalent to Warren Beatty’s similarly good-looking-if-leisurely “Dick Tracy.” Nifty lounge-jazz score by Greg DeBelles heightens the mock-cool, pseudo-B-pic tenor.