Detective comedies typically come in two flavours: the tale of a bumbling idiot who nonetheless gets their man, or a story about a really smart, vaguely antisocial detective surrounded by witty dialogue and eccentric characters. Netflix’s Handsome tries to serve up a third flavour, which is a blend of both.
Gene Handsome (Garlin) is an LA detective who’s perfectly good at his job. He’s not the sharpest knife in the box, but he’s not the dullest blade either. He’s well-meaning, a little awkward, and gets his man without much struggle or drama. Indeed, labyrinthine plotting isn’t the aim of the game: within the opening minute, the film introduces us to the killer. Or, to be accurate, the killer themselves appears and tells us who they are.
It’s that kind of humour that Handsome laces throughout its oddball 90 minutes, undermining the genre’s tropes not necessarily by being clever or subversive, but simply by being quite silly. If that sounds like a hard sell, you’re getting to the crux of quite a few Netflix original movies. The streaming service is doubling down on its feature production, hiring former Universal exec Scott Stuber to run its original film arm, but its slate to date has largely consisted of projects where writers and directors have been given a freer hand to follow their whims. It’s a fantastic calling card for creatives, but can also result in acquisitions or projects that need a bit of polish.
Netflix’s best original movies to date have been acquisitions that are fully formed and smartly crafted, from Ellen Page drama Tallulah and sci-fi thriller ARQ to documentaries 13th and Casting JonBent. Others, such as Girlfriend’s Day, have struggled to find their focus or tone. Handsome sits somewhere in the middle, on a par with the equally likeable caper Deidra & Laney Rob a Train.
Garlin and Andrea Seigel’s script stumbles when it comes to a compelling story or memorable lead character, but it’s elevated by its cast: Garlin himself, who will be recognisable to audiences from The Goldbergs, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm and (vocally) WALL-E, is a nice mix of incompetent people skills and genuine police smarts. A scene with a neighbour and some cookies, in which he tries not to appear creepy, gives him a chance to bring the chuckles, but he’s a performer at his best when he’s simply going about his business quietly.
That’s fine for a film with a sharper sense of identity, but doesn’t automatically make for invigorating cinema. And so he mostly deadpans his way through a supporting ensemble of enjoyable weirdos: Brad Morris’ Detective Jerpis is laugh-out-loud funny, as he comes up with increasingly far-fetched theories about how murders have taken place – “Along comes our perp, driving a late 90s Honda Accord, purple, that’s my gut feeling…” – while Stephen Weber is enjoyably sleazy as a self-absorbed actor. Christine Woods as romantic interest Nora even generates a gentle scene of pathos halfway through, as she and Handsome chat about life and their dreams.
Throughout, a suitably jaunty Ben Folds score accompanies events, helping to hold things together. It’s a sign of how bitty the whole tapestry is, though, that the uneven jumble of vignettes only really clicks into place when Natasha Lyonne is on screen, as her sidekick, Fleur Scozzari, shamelessly flirts with suspects. A crime mystery comedy that’s light on mystery and comedy, Handsome is an intriguing new flavour in the spoof detective genre, but it’s not one that will linger on the tongue.