Case Closed

10 Detective Comedies You Seriously Need to Watch


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As we gear up for the July 8th premiere of The Spoils Before Dying, our minds have gravitated toward the movies and TV shows that turned the hardboiled detective drama on its ear. From subtle satires to broad parodies, there are countless worthy send-ups of pulp procedurals and whodunits filled with wisecracking leads, nutty red herrings, and goofy double-crosses. And because the genre mockery is so vast, invariably there will be overlooked gems amongst their more well-known counterparts.

So if you’re a fan of the genre, or just on the lookout for an obscure laffer, here are 10 must-watch detective comedies that you might have missed.

10. Murder by Death, for those who like Clue

Nearly a decade before the loopy adaptation of everyone’s favorite blunt trauma board game, Neil Simon penned a spoof of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Starring esteemed actors like Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, David Niven, and Peter Falk as thinly veiled analogs to famous sleuths, this parody is a must-see for fans of objectionable characters being picked off one by one in a creepy mansion.

9. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, for those who like The Pink Panther

Few bumbling detectives measure up to Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in the 1963 comedy classic The Pink Panther — and that includes Steve Martin in the 2006 remake. However, Martin played the goofy gumshoe to the hilt in Carl Reiner’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid wherein 18 classic noir films are spliced into the narrative and act as fodder for Martin and his co-stars to play off of. It’s Steve Martin in his prime leading a whacked-out premise, i.e. an instant classic.

8. Black Dynamite, for those who like Pootie Tang

With all due respect to Louis CK as a film auteur, the elements that worked as a Chris Rock Show sketch never came together in his 2001 blaxploitation misfire Pootie Tang. But simultaneously honoring and skewering the super-’70s genre, Black Dynamite worked in all the ways Pootie didn’t. Authentic down to the era, swagger, and 16mm film stock, this spoof expertly mines its sources for humor both broad and obscure.

7. Police Squad!, for those who like The Naked Gun

Criminally canceled after only six episodes, the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker gag-heavy series Police Squad! first introduced us to dimwitted cop Frank Drebin, a role that couldn’t be played by anyone but Leslie Nielsen. Although the show’s premise, characters, and many of the jokes were resurrected for the Naked Gun film franchise, there’s a certain nostalgic charm to the original 1982 show that remains timeless even 33 years later.

6. Burn After Reading, for those who like The Big Lebowski

Not a detective comedy in the strictest sense, the Coen Brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski was nevertheless inspired by Raymond Chandler’s crime novel The Big Sleep through a filter of weed and bowling. Similarly, the Coens’ Burn After Reading extracted the espionage and intrigue from spy mysteries and injected them into a shaggy dog plot featuring off-the-wall characters and twists out of left field.

5. Action Family, for those who like Eagleheart

Defining surreal comedy before many of today’s comedy stars were even born, Chris Elliott’s most recent venture Eagleheart was Adult Swim’s answer to Justified. But Elliott skewered the detective drama and cheesy family sitcoms decades earlier in the Cinemax one-shot Action Family. In it, Elliott played both a hard-nosed detective and hapless dad in a 30-minute special that combined canned laughter and gruesome murder in one hilarious package.

4. Andy Barker, P.I., for those who like Monk

Detective series often employ leads that would be ill-suited for sleuthing if it weren’t for their canny skills in getting their man. And while Tony Shalhoub in Monk actively chose the world of private investigation, Andy Richter didn’t have much of a choice in Andy Barker, P.I. Mistaken for a detective due to a change in office space, Barker uses his accounting expertise to make ends meet as a crime-solver.

3. Kolchak: The Night Stalker, for those who like The X-Files

Although it was ostensibly a drama, Chris Carter’s X-Files was much funnier than its premise and storylines dictated, and much of that was owed to another supernaturally driven series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Starring A Christmas Story’s Darrin McGavin as an investigative newspaper reporter, the series not only inspired the “Monster of the Week” episodes of X-Files and Buffy, it did so with a heavy dose of humor and charm.

2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, for those who like Lethal Weapon

Screenwriter Shane Black was barely out of college when he sold Lethal Weapon to producer Joel Silver, infusing the dialogue with witty repartee and further establishing the buddy-cop genre. Nearly 20 years later, Black upended the tropes he helped define, while also mocking the Hollywood machine and meta-filmmaking, for the detective comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Starring a never-better Val Kilmer and Robert Downey, Jr., the movie is a smart and uniquely funny neo-noir that picks on the right people.

1. Lookwell, for those who like Columbo

It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Peter Falk in the role of Columbo. Masking his deductive reasoning with affable chattiness, the detective usually has the case solved from the very first perp meet. Likewise, Lookwell couldn’t exist without Adam West, but his deduction skills are anything but masterful. In the role he was born to play, West is a former TV detective solving crimes in his spare time (he has a lot of it, he warns). Sadly, the pilot is West’s only turn as Lookwell, but in just 22 minutes, he has us all pining for six seasons and a movie.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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