Finding glimmers of long-lasting worthiness in IFC’s controversial dark action-comedy series, Bullet in the Face, is about as difficult as it is for its main character, murderous sociopath turned 5-0 Gunter Vogler (Max Williams), to see flashes of his old identity in his newly transplanted face. The series—a hodgepodge of influences like Face/Off and violence-trumpeting films such as Natural Born Killers, Grindhouse, and Hobo with a Shotgun—is built around scenes of slapstick brutality, tasteless jokes, and over-exaggerated performances, the most inflated of which is that of its leading man. Enduring the artificiality of Williams’s absurd Germanic accent is crucial in order to discover the brief instances of inspired wit beneath Bullet in the Face’s trashy superficial visage.
Bullet in the Face’s campy style is more or less in the same realm of farce as series creator Alan Spencer’s 1980s cop satire, Sledge Hammer!, albeit tuned to a cable-TV-in-2012 level of ridiculousness. The premiere is the weakest of the series’s scant six episodes, a jerky and problematic outing that drags during most of its half-hour running time. In the middle of a botched jewel heist, Vogler is forcibly double-crossed by his enigmatic lover, Martine (Kate Kelton), and his demented crime-lord boss, Tannhäuser (Eddie Izzard), leaving him comatose and confined to a hospital for three months, his face surgically replaced with that of a respected lawman who met his end at Vogler’s hand. Upon waking, Vogler encounters the grouchy Commissioner Eva Barden (Jessica Steen) and the compliant Lieutenant Karl Hagerman (Neil Napier), a former partner (both on the job and off) of Vogler’s posthumous facial donor. For no legitimate reason other than “fighting evil with evil,” as she so haughtily states, Barden commands Vogler to don a badge and clean up the corrupted streets of their morally deteriorating city, seeking revenge on those who left him for dead. From then on Bullet in the Face turns into a mediocre procedural, with the occasional overarching storyline threads being readdressed via cutaways to Izzard’s loony, snow globe-obsessed Tannhäuser.
The few case-of-the-week narrative premises range from hackneyed (crooked priests being mysteriously killed off by an “angel of death”) to fairly promising, as when mind-altering drugs are slipped into a popular energy drink, resulting in several acts of savagery, like a man being shot in the head while receiving a blowjob. For all its frippery and misfiring, Bullet in the Face manages to intermittently excel at being garbage for garbage’s sake, even going so far as to spawn some sympathy for its sinful antihero by the series’s somewhat exciting but rushed conclusion. But the supporting characters, aside from Izzard’s scenery-chewing Tannhäuser, fail to entice, rarely popping off the screen even within the series’s chaotic, cartoony environment. Much like the clownish mask of its iniquitous protagonist, Bullet in the Face demands further reconstructive work to mend its various glaring imperfections.