Ten years ago this hipster-handbook approved gem was released into the void. Despite starring Cillian Murphy and Lucy Liu, this one flew under everyone’s radar. Recently it was put up on Amazon Prime’s video catalog and whoa baby, this thing feels like it was written specifically for me.
Synopsis: “Neil, a self proclaimed film geek and owner of Gumshoe video, has always been content to live vicariously through his favorite films noir. But when he meets Violet, a real-life femme fatale, his mundane world gets turned upside down and the line between reality and the movies quickly begins to blur. Will Neil step up and embrace a life full of adventure or retreat back to his comfortable couch?”
This one came out of nowhere and hits like a slap to the face. It was written and directed by Broken Lizard founder Paul Soter who missed his calling as a playwright because the banter between characters would almost be better suited for a play than an indie film, but it definitely works in this context as an indie comedy.
Who doesn’t want to meet some amazing person and have them shake up your boring-ass life? You get up, you go to work, you come home, pop on the TV, eat dinner and then fall asleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. That routine becomes a prison and the idea of a charismatic, mysterious stranger breaking you out of that rut seems like a dream come true. But it can also be very over-whelming; too much, too soon puts Neil on his back foot. Movies are his life, but when the opportunity to actually live life like the movies – he flinches.
Watching the Detectives feels like those mid-90’s indie flicks like Clerks, Swingers or Friday in that it’s a very small, off-beat movie that’s not trying to win awards or be a box office smash. It’s firmly in that “okay, I just kinda want to tell my weird, little story and that’s it.”
In a rare rom-com type role, Cillian Murphy is absolutely perfect as Neil (Murphy can pretty much do any role better than your favorite actor). His portrayal of Neil’s gullible, yet genuine nature makes the entire gimmick of the story work. For every over-the-top caper that Violet gets him mixed up in, Neil’s internal battle between wanting it desperately to be real and genuinely fearing for his life keeps the tone of the film grounded even in it’s most ridiculous moments.
Then there’s Lucy Liu. ‘ho boy! If I had seen this movie at a more formative age, it would have poisoned me for all future relationships because no woman could ever be as interesting as Violet. She is a whirlwind of excitement and mystery every single time she’s on screen. The way she delivers Soter’s lines and plays out her elaborate “tests” contain the kind of madcap energy that would transfix even the most jaded hipster.
Another plus for this movie is that the end-game actually allows Violet to live up to Liu’s bewitching portrayal. It doesn’t fall into the traditional rom-com pitfalls still happening in movies today (and this was a decade ago!) because it leans into the “omg, wtf is going on rn” vibe they crafted throughout the film to close things out. Third acts are tough, Watching the Detectives actually manages to make this one work, despite the absolutely bizarre premise.
This movie is a new personal fav. It has all the idiosyncratic beats you’d want out of something like this and 100% delivers on the comedy while still crafting a believable romance between the two leads. Then there are some moments that are just flat-out strange – like Neil being so distraught he cannot stop crying. He cries at work and he even bawls his eyes out while playing softball with friends.
That scene alone is worth the price of FREE ON AMAZON (if you’re a Prime subscriber). Also, quick shout out to Jason Sudekis (Colossal) for being in this one. His role was pretty small, but charming and seeing him pop up on screen was one of those fun moments where you go, “Hey, holy shit, HE’S in this too?!”
Probably my favorite scene (well, of the ones not including Violet) that best encapsulates the overall vibe of Watching the Detectives is when Neil is distraught because life without Violet’s shenanigans seems so bland and predictable and is discussing with a coworker (Lucien). The UPS guy (cameo by the film’s director) comes in to deliver a package:
Neil: Oh god Lucien, she’s ruined it for me Lucien. I mean it’s all so boring now!
Lucien: Hey, hey let’s put in a movie?
Neil: No, no more movies. It’s no use, it’s not enough anymore, ya know? It’s just all so mundane and so predictable Lucien. Oh hey look! It’s Jayson. Jayson’s going to come in here and he’s going to hand me a package, and then he’s going hand me his thing, and I’m going to sign the thing and I’m going to hand it right back to him, and then he’s going to get in his truck and he’s going to drive of. Oh, it’s… it’s so predictable Lucien, it’s not enough anymore, ya know? Where’s the… where’s the adventure, you know?
[while signing Jayson’s package]
Neil: there’s no adventure man. Where’s the adventure Lucien?
Jay: You signed it “Neil Adventure.”
[Neil signs it again]
Jay: You crossed out “Adventure” and wrote “adventure” again.
Neil: What does it matter Jayson? Huh!
[Neil storms off]
Jay: It matters because I’m actually responsible for any package that doesn’t have a valid signature or receipt…
Lucien: [Goes to sign the package] Jesus Christ…
Jay: I don’t make the rules.
Lucien: Lighten up Jayson.
Hit us up on Twitter @Official_FAN if you’re able to actually find this hidden gem and tell us what you think!