In the pantheon of love-them-or-hate-them auteurs, Quentin Dupieux resides somewhere in the middle — neither as provocative as a Gaspar Noé nor as clever in his absurdity as a Yorgos Lanthimos. His latest, “Keep an Eye Out,” isn’t actually his latest: Distributed abroad three years ago, its stateside release follows those of 2019’s “Deerskin” and last year’s “Mandibles.” Devotees of the French filmmaker (who also goes by Mr. Oizo) may find “Keep an Eye Out” worth the wait, but anyone not already on board with Dupieux’s brand of offbeat humor and forays into the surreal can safely ignore the title’s advice.
The film begins with a speedo-clad man conducting an open-air orchestra and continues at the same bizarre pace for all 73 minutes of its scant runtime, which is for the best — even those with an affinity for this kind of outré offering would concede that a little goes a long way. It’s hard to imagine that Dupieux, who first burst onto the international scene with his killer-tire thriller “Rubber” just over a decade ago, has changed many the minds of anyone whose first impression was based on that enjoyable-enough bauble; what’s followed has largely been in a similar vein, with the writer-director preaching to the choir rather than attempting to bring in new converts. His oeuvre is admirably — if stubbornly — out-there, but at times it isn’t much else.
The title is, unsurprisingly for Dupieux, a bit of wordplay. (It was released in France as “Au poste!” or “To the police station!”) Taking place almost entirely in, well, a police station, it features a hapless detective (Marc Fraize) missing an eye; he also uses the word “actually” more than a Twitter reply guy and is fixated with his set square, a pointy math tool that functions as Dupieux’s answer to Chekhov’s gun. Aside from the accidental death involving this arithmetical implement that has to be covered up for reasons that shan’t be spoiled here, the film consists largely of a sometimes funny, sometimes meandering interrogation — a few oddball anecdotes about extreme hunger here, casual admissions of suicidal ideation there.
As for the untimely passing that truly sets the plot in motion, the perfect crime it is not. Because the man who endeavors to brush it all under the rug isn’t even responsible for the death in question and is only in the police station for questioning about a separate incident, watching his attempt to avoid incrimination is more eyebrow-raising than thrilling — or funny, for that matter.
The lead officer (Benoît Poelvoorde) and his suspect (Grégoire Ludig) make “Keep an Eye Out” something of a two-hander, with others coming in and out to add to the absurdity every so often. One of them is played by none other than Michel Hazanavicius, who’s failed to capture the public imagination since winning an Academy Award for directing “The Artist.” (Jean Dujardin, who likewise won an Oscar for his work on that black-and-white throwback, previously appeared in Dupieux’s “Deerskin.”)
A few third-act twists help to recast the preceding hour in a more compelling light, and unlike much else in the film aren’t over-explained. We’re made to sit with these revelations, turning them over in our mind so as to make sense of them — and, indeed, everything that came before them. “Keep an Eye Out” saves the best for last, going out on a high note that almost, but not quite, leaves the audience wanting more.
For even at just over an hour long, the film comes dangerously close to overstaying its welcome. It’s a mildly amusing trifle, but Dupieux has already made several of those. It’s one thing not to challenge your viewers, but another not to challenge yourself — something Dupieux has shown little interest in doing.