Quentin Dupieux, the mastermind behind last year’s cult hit ‘Rubber,’ has returned with ‘Wrong,’ an absurdist follow-up in keeping with his debut. When Dolph awakens to find his beloved dog missing, it sends him on a journey that will affect the lives of a lonely pizza delivery operator, an eccentric zen master and his own landscaper. Filled with quirky characters, ‘Wrong’ embraces an even quirkier world that feels familiar but just out of reach — much to its detriment.
‘Wrong’ — and the absurdist slant of Dupieux — brings to mind the wacky humor of ‘Tim and Eric,’ the comedy duo whose aesthetic resides somewhere between ’90s cable access and the most non-sensical parts of our id. And like ‘Tim and Eric,’ ‘Wrong’ also lacks any real purpose or reason for anything it does. Why, then, is it less successful? Humor is arguably more subjective than any other human response, and while there’s plenty to laugh at in ‘Wrong,’ perhaps it’s Dupieux’s directing style and the feature-length format that undercuts humor that otherwise works for the aforementioned Adult Swim mainstays. In both cases the comedy is vacant (not that that’s a bad thing, per se), but here the effect is meandering at best. Perhaps it’s because ‘Tim and Eric’ are so over the top — the pair find a line, cross it, and then turn it up to 11; Dupieux, on the other hand, shows a little too much restraint.
‘Wrong’ is admittedly more understated than ‘Rubber’ and lacks the stylish visuals that enhanced his first film. ‘Rubber’ is clearly Dupieux’s manifesto piece, featuring an opening monologue that explains his “no reason” approach. That approach carries over to ‘Wrong,’ but it feels redundant — not just because it echoes his first feature, but because the concept of senseless, wackadoo humor isn’t fresh or exciting. It is certainly a genre, and there is certainly always room for more, but this particular brand of funny carries an inherent “go big or go home” stipulation that no one bothered to explain to Dupieux.
Elements like an office where it’s always inexplicably raining indoors and people can use their office equipment without being electrocuted are funny the first time or two we see them on screen, but by the third or fourth appearance the silliness wears thin and the senselessness becomes less of a joke and more of a beaten horse. The way characters speak to each other, with their un-cringing honesty, relating their most (non-sexual and, okay, sometimes sexual) primitive desires is also a bit too familiar — remember Ricky Gervais’ ‘The Invention of Lying’?
The acting, however, is superb. Jack Plotnick does his best mustachioed Gene Wilder in the lead role and sells the earnestness of a desperate, inquisitive man seeking his lost pet. This adventure brings him to William Fichtner’s character, a zen master type with an affinity for dogs who writes books combining canines and martial arts. Fichtner is on some next level stuff here with a vague European accent and a delightfully off-kilter performance. Similarly, Steve Little zeroes in on the intensity in his doggy detective role, providing the film with one of its more memorable moments. But stellar performances and competent directing do not a successful film make; the script never exceeds a sort of half-hearted embrace of its ridiculous world, and the end result is disappointing.
‘Wrong’ is now available on VOD and iTunes and opens in select theaters on March 29.