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A brief review of "Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie" (2017)

Although a lot of what I may have to say about Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie may seem like back-handed praise, I genuinely do like it.  It is one of the better Netflix original movies I've seen, which may or may not be saying something depending on which of their never-ending lineup you've watched.  (Disclaimer: I haven't seen Beasts of No Nation yet, but I did watch The Do-Over.  I do not have good priorities.)

Handsome is sitting at mediocre 5.5 on IMDb right now.  I'd love to come to bat and make the argument that the rating should be higher.  The thing is, I kinda can't.  Somewhere in the upper 5s / lower 6s is pretty much exactly where a movie like this belongs for the vast majority of people.

The technical components, while crisp and serviceable, are not game-changing.  The premise is not particularly innovative.  And I can't even say that the jokes are a constant source of belly laughs, even though there are plenty of great gags.  About the best thing I can think to say is that there isn't anything awful in this movie.  The worst experience you'll have is that you might not be laughing a whole lot, and at best you'll be unexpectedly won over.

I would lump Handsome in the same category of doomed-to-B-status comedies where I put The Wrong Guy and Mystery Team.  I liked both of those movies quite a bit, too, and all three have truly brilliant moments that work fantastically.  Unfortunately, when all is said and done, all three movies feel like they're missing something.  None of them have that final polish or zing they need to be truly snappy, engaging comedies.  And without it, all of them are forced into the Cult Movie zone.

I don't know what that last ingredient is.  Maybe it's just a matter of editing.  Maybe if they moved a little bit faster, you'd be laughing too much to get distracted by the rough edges.  Maybe if they had one more pass at their screenplays they could even out some of the less-funny moments.  Who knows.

As it happens, I'm a fan of cult movies, so it's not too big a problem for me.  Your mileage may vary.

Here's a good litmus test for you.  The movie's opening scene / joke is having Steve Weber climb out of a pool, look into the camera, and say, "Welcome to this mystery movie!  I'll be playing the murderer," right before he walks off screen.  If that sounds like a groaner to you, don't bother.  If you didn't quite laugh, but you like where the movie's head is at, then you're in the same boat as me and you should watch the rest of it.

That describes probably half of the movie, actually.  I spent about an even amount of time laughing versus thinking about laughing.  The second option isn't nearly as fun as the first, but it's waaaaaay better than being annoyed by a bad joke.

In fact, I don't think the movie got a good, hard laugh out of me until probably twenty minutes in, but I knew early on that I wanted to stick with it based on two things:

1) I saw in the opening credits that Ben Folds did the score; and

2) The scene immediately after the credits shows Detective Handsome (Jeff Garlin) talking to the camera for a minute or two about what it takes to be a detective, and when it finally cuts to a reverse shot to show who he's talking to, it's actually a room full of police officers for once and not a bunch of kids or an old folks' home or some other bunch of innocents.

Item #2 up there certainly doesn't sound impressive.  But think about how awful a gag that would have been.  Easy, too.  Handsome doesn't settle for low-hanging fruit.  It may not knock every gag out of the park, but that's okay with me.  I'd rather it build up to bigger jokes than throw out every piece of shit it can.

I also want to give credit to Jeff Garlin for keeping himself in check throughout.  He's the writer, director, and star, yet he doesn't have very many of the punchlines.  He plays the straight man - literally the, as I'm fairly certain everybody else in the movie is a cartoon character - and it pays off.  Garlin surrounds himself with a lot of talented comic actors who deliver all the jokes while he drives the story forward.  That could easily have gone awry if he insisted on giving himself all the best lines.

I feel compelled to bring up Parallels, another movie that debuted on Netflix a few years back.  Parallels was originally going to be a TV show, but then plans changed and the creators re-edited what they had produced to turn it into a movie.  That particular experiment was a failure: although some of the movie is compelling, it has an irredeemable turd of an ending.  Handsome, on the other hand, is a movie that was edited to look more like a TV show, complete with a title card for this week's "episode," which overall works pretty well.

Even so, the result is tragically similar - Handsome would work so much better as a fifty to sixty minute TV show where the shorter timeframe lets the cast turn out jokes more rapidly.  If this was the pilot, I'd come back to try the rest of the season.  With any luck, it'll turn out that was the plan all along.