August 8, 2017

TROTSKY & HUTCH: After reading Kyle Smith’s “Channing Tatum’s Anti-Communist Manifesto,” at NRO over the weekend, I watched the first two episodes of Comrade Detective on Amazon Prime last night, which is a sort of mash-up of Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lily, Police Squad, Gorky Park, and SCTV’s Soviet broadcasting parody segment, as Smith explains:

According to an earnestly delivered prologue, what we’re watching is found footage: An actual Romanian buddy-cop TV show from the 1980s. The look and feel of the show (which was actually shot last year) are absolutely dead-on recreations, exactly what you’d expect if you happened to be watching prime-time state TV in Bucharest circa 1988. The actors are Romanian, the mustaches are thick, the art direction is lavishly gray. Everything is played with a completely straight face, and the series was actually filmed in Eastern Europe, which apparently still features lots of locations suffering from Soviet Bloc hangover. If you turned off the sound, you’d swear you were actually watching the Romanian Simon & Simon.

What makes Comrade Detective a comedy is the (intentionally ungainly) dubbing: Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provide the voices of the mismatched detectives, Gregor Anghel and Iosif Baciu (played impeccably onscreen by Romanians Florin Piersic Jr. and Corneliu Ulici), and such familiar actors as Chloë Sevigny, Daniel Craig, Jake Johnson, Kim Basinger, Jenny Slate, and Mahershala Ali dub supporting characters. Nick Offerman, voicing the crusty, no-nonsense police chief, is especially fine.

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Explaining the board game Monopoly, which plays a surprising role in the plot, devolves into pained disbelief: “The more rent you get paid the more money you make,” says an expert on the West. “You’re telling me that the purpose of this game is to drive your fellow citizens into poverty so that you may get rich?” says one of the cops. Black-market racketeers inspire a near-riot amid desperate demand for their wares and protect themselves with machine guns . . . in the process of selling Jordache jeans. Because we’re watching Iron Curtain propaganda, a visit to the U.S. embassy reveals that average Americans are eating huge piles of hamburgers at all times, even at the office. Looming offscreen like the Emperor in Star Wars or Voldemort in Harry Potter, the ultimate source of bone-chilling unease is . . . Ronald Reagan.

Read the whole thing. And maybe even watch the whole thing as well. At nearly an hour each segment, it’s not laugh-a-minute funny, but almost every scene is punctuated by a laugh-out-loud take on either Soviet propaganda or American detective shows – and often both. Of the two Romanian leads, the senior detective is a sort of hardscrabble version of David Soul’s appearance (complete with funky leather sports jacket and sunglasses) on Starsky & Hutch, and his junior partner is the spitting image of young Leon Trotsky.

Based on the first two segments I watched, highly recommended.

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