Have you ever been stuck at a party talking to a guy who thinks he’s a comic genius? It’s not that you don’t get his jokes – it’s just that they aren’t funny. You stand there smelling his breath and waiting for him to finish his sentence, hoping to get away. This is how I felt watching Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong, a Drafthouse Films release predicated on the idea that willful weirdness equals high surrealism. Having enjoyed Dupieux’s last film, Rubber (2010), I was disappointed.
Dolph (Plotnick) wakes up one morning to find that his dog is missing and the palm tree in his yard has morphed into a fir. His life is topsy-turvy most of the time: He wakes up every day to a clock that reads 7:60 and parks in a handicap space at the bizarro travel agency that fired him three months ago. So it’s hardly suspenseful when we learn that the dog’s disappearance is the result of a botched conspiracy planned by the Zen guru Master Chang (Fichtner). From here, Dolph sets out to channel the dog’s spirit and bring it home, with a little help from a gardener (Judor), a pet detective (Little), and a mystical textbook authored by Chang.
Dupieux, a French musician, writer, and director, has a knack for inanimate-object-based humor. His music videos (made under the stage name Mr. Oizo) sometimes star Flat Eric, a yellow felt creation of Jim Henson’s company, while his feature film Rubber, in which a tire comes to life and explodes human heads using telekinesis, is basically a puppet movie as well. In the opening scene of Rubber, we see a car slowly knocking over a series of chairs lined up in the road. Why is it hilarious? “No reason,” as the driver of the car keeps saying. Yet it is. Likewise, all the funny bits in Wrong are machine-centric sight gags, like the automatic seatbelt in Dolph’s Ford Tempo and the slowly ejecting photos of the detective’s Polaroid camera. These quirks are buried in the background, as Dupieux spools out endless stretches of dialogue. (I found myself wondering if the movie would be better in French with English subtitles, so that some of the awkwardness of the writing could be blamed on poor translation.)
Plotnick is an appealing actor. He has the same sweetly knit brow and watery blue eyes as Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, but his character here is as flat as a pancake. Moreover, if you’ve seen the trailer for Wrong, you’ve seen the movie. All of the film’s visually inventive elements are shown there. The trailer would work fine as a Mr. Oizo music video, but the feature version’s handful of stunts (a rack focus in every scene, the sopping-wet set of Dolph’s office, and the silly costumes of Master Chang) get stale after the first reel. “Man gets inured to things rapidly,” Chang warns Dolph. Words of wisdom.