French DJ-turned-filmmaker Quentin Dupieux (aka Mr. Ozio) has made a cinematic career out of films that are hard to classify, usually skewing between genres with a decidedly absurdist bent. Perhaps best known in the states for Rubber, his strange tale of a telekinetic serial-murdering tire, Dupieux brings his distinct brand of oddball comedy to the realm of police procedural with the fabulously titled Keep an Eye Out (a delightful pun related to the events of the film).
Set inside the confines of a 1970s-tinged police station (aside from flashbacks and a fittingly bizarre opening credits scene), Keep an Eye Out unfolds over the course of a gratingly long stop-and-start interrogation headed up by Chief Inspector Buron (Man Bites Dog’s Benoit Poelvoorde), a self-serious, bombastic investigator who can’t even make his own dinner plans without help from his interrogation subject. This particular night, that poor subject is Fugain (Grégoire Ludig playing the straight man impeccably), a tired and hungry fellow who happened upon a corpse outside his apartment and made the mistake of reporting it to the police. Now he’s the prime suspect, forced to recount the mundane minutiae of his night — seven trips in and out his apartment, to be exact — in order to prove his innocence.
Until the moment the corpse comes into play, his story is painfully banal, a fact Inspector Buron comments on regularly, grading the beats of his story along the way. “It’s just a totally boring chain of events,” he gripes, straining to maintain interest. And he’s not wrong. Though the performances and Dupieux’s knack for absurdist detail keep the material interesting, there’s a sometimes frustrating element of tedium to the proceedings. Fugain and the inspector argue over colloquial expressions — men don’t freeze their tits off, they freeze their nuts off — and no matter how many times Buron complains about his frustrations, it doesn’t alleviate the audience of theirs.
Fortunately for the audience, though not for Fugain, things take a turn from boring to worse when he’s left in the room with the utterly incompetent Phillippe (Marc Fraize), who plays a scene-stealing, one-eyed blundering fool before accidentally killing himself in the cheekiest way possible. Now, Fugain is set to be pinned for two deaths, and he hastily shoves the body in the closet in the hopes of covering it up. The death not only livens up the proceedings, but offers Dupieux an avenue into stranger territory when the flashbacks of Fugain’s memories suddenly become temporally crossed with the events at the police station. Phillipe’s dead body pops up on the TV in his apartment, Phillipe’s wife (Anaïs Demoustier) interrupts his story to ask questions, etc, and things only get weirder from there.
Though the incessant bickering and dry narrative can be tiresome at times (even with the film’s scant 73-minute runtime), Dupieux keeps things lively by firing off absurdist gags in every way possible. The dialogue is sharp and witty, including a running gag about the infectiousness of the word “actually,” there’s a laugh-out-loud sight gag about a smoking man with a hole in his chest, and a number of fantastic physical gags including the dangers of a geometry set square and an incorrectly eaten oyster. By the time the film’s end rolls around, Dupieux fully unleashes his zany absurdism and turns the tables on the audience entirely, creating a certifiably insane ending that’s not much of an ending at all, actually.
But it will do just fine, and if you’ve got a taste of Dupieux’s particular brand of structured madness, Keep an Eye Out will likely have you howling in your seat between the film’s more measured moments.