I’d been looking forward to IFC’s Bullet in the Face since the day that it was announced that the series would be condensed, changed from a six-part weekly series into a two-night event, seemingly meant to sweep the series under the rug without actually having to kill a series that’d already been produced and filmed. Ostensibly, that decision was made because the content of Bullet in the Face — described at the time by Deadline as The Most Violent Comedy in TV History, a show that depicts a killer “in a church using a crucifix as a backscratcher and casually lumping former VP Dick Cheney with Hitler and Stalin in conversation” — was decidedly politically incorrect and likely to raise the ire of watchdog groups.
I’m convinced now that the almost non-existent controversy surrounding the show (I may have been the only person in the media to pick up on it outside of Deadline) was all for display, a clever way to attract eyes to what can best be described as a mediocre comedy. The violence is certainly there — blood sprays liberally, and the premise of the show is built around a man shot in the face on two different occasions — but that violence is so cartoonish as to almost be benign. There’s nothing ghastly or intense about the bloodshed, and there is so little investment in any of the characters that their eventual bullet-riddled bodies affect no emotion.
That’s not to say that Bullet in the Face is not without some fun. It can be ridiculous, and ridiculously fun (especially when Eddie Izzard is onscreen) but the offbeat goofiness of the IFC comedy wears quickly thin, which is why it would’ve made for a much better weekly half-hour series.
It’s difficult to describe the kind of off-kilter energy coursing through Bullet in the Face, except to say that — had I not already known that it was from Alan Spencer, the writer behind the 80’s show Sledgehammer — I would’ve thought, “Hey, this reminds me in tone of the 80’s show, Sledgehammer.”
The show stars Max Williams as Gunter Vogler, the muscle for Heinrich Tannhauser (Eddie Izzard), a crime lord engaged in a mob war with the head of another crime family (Eric Roberts). Tannhauser, however, discovers that his wife is sleeping with another man and asks that Gunter kill her. The rub, however, is that the other man is Gunter, and before Gunter can take out Tannhauser’s wife/his mistress — who is pregnant with Gunter’s child — she shoots him in face.
Gunter wakes up three months later only to discover that, after a transplant, he now has the face of a cop that he had shot before he had himself been shot in the face. The police department had given him a transplant in an effort to use him to get inside the Tannhauser syndicate and take it down from the inside. Gunter, who knows nothing but violence, is hesitant to agree (“I will not live my life with some other face I do not recognize. I am not Mickey Rourke.”), but ultimately does so after discovering that his old boss and his mistress both want him dead.
The exaggerated nature of the show, the bad German accents, and the over-the-top violence aside, the opening episode is a strong one, intentionally bad-funny. It’s when the show escapes from the series arc and devolves into an absurd case-of-the-week procedural that Bullet in the Face becomes wearying. It’d have been a much better show had they beefed up the roles of Eric Roberts and Eddie Izzard and the focus centered exclusively on the gang war, with Gunter unwillingly trapped in between on the side of the law, instead of padding the arc with cases. It’s still very much watchable, and at times punctuated with nutbar moments of delightfully deranged humor, but it’s best digested in installments rather than in two hour-and-a-half chunks, as it’s being aired on IFC starting tonight starting at 10.