There are some aspects of Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie where it seems like star Jeff Garlin (he plays the title role of Gene Handsome) is doing his best work. Then, you remember the role he plays as Larry David’s sidekick in Curb Your Enthusiasm and you know better. Make no mistake about it, Garlin is doing some very solid stuff in Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie, but it is hard for me to watch him on the screen and not see (or expect) Jeff Greene or Murray Goldberg for that matter. So lets just say that, as far as I am concerned, Handsome is an idea that needs its own full blown series.
The story of Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie follows the classic tropes of all the detective movies and shows we love. Gene Handsome is a Los Angeles homicide detective who is very good at his job. At the same time he has glaring issues in his personal life. All of this comes to the forefront in this oddball, detective comedy that is either going to pique your interest very high, or have you turning this film off after 10 minutes.
Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie essentially begins when a severed female body appears on the lawn of former celebrity Talbert Bacorn (Steven Weber). The fact that the body is displayed in a Star of David only serves to highlight the oddness that follows. It is at this point that Handsome sets out with his partner Scozzari (Natasha Lyonne) to find the killer. The fact that Scozzari is more interested in bedding down anyone they talk to, makes for many interesting exchanges as they try and bring the killer to justice. Add to this that Handsome is also being forced into retirement and that too looms large over this film.
And this is where Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie either gets you or it doesn’t. Even though this is a murder mystery it doesn’t really go anywhere. This film seems like a hodgepodge of scenes and sketches put together around a murder mystery. Basically, Garlin, a comedian who also directed and co-wrote (with Andrea Seigel) Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie, seems to be having something of a lark. It is almost as if he said, “Hey, how can I make a movie that will deconstruct the murder mystery genre?” The answer to that seems to be this film. Especially since the killer tells you what’s up before the movie even begins, removing that element from the proceedings. So as an audience member, you can’t help but always feel one step in front of the hero. But that’s intentional. And it’s kind of brilliant.
This movie is littered with scenes of Garlin and Lyonne shaking down perps, though they really don’t “shake them down.” They ask questions, sometimes get answers, oftentimes get nothing, yet, through Gene Handsome‘s power of detective reasoning they end up solving the case. And when you watch this film, it isn’t that hard a case to solve considering that the person who is responsible for the heinous crime is pretty easy to spot. And by that I mean VERY early into the movie.
However, that is probably Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie’s greatest strength. Robert Altman once called his film Gosford Park not a whodunit, but (to paraphrase) a “who the hell cares who did it.” The same could be said of this film. It walks like a detective film, it talks like a detective film, but all of the nuance and actual mystery are nowhere to be found. We see Garlin as the detective doing detective things, he’s being forced into retirement, he’s got a surly partner, etc. These things simply seem like to devices to make Handsome seem like a busy detective.
Even the title of Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie is misleading. It is almost as if Garlin wanted to so totally break apart the detective genre that he made it unrecognizable. As a result, we get a film that feels fresh and original. In fact, this is very much a film that Robert Altman could’ve made. However, Garlin is not the director that Altman is so it doesn’t always ring as true. What Jeff Garlin does manage to do is tap into Altman’s oddball sensibility. Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie is both a weird film, a love story, and a wannabe police procedural. I give Netflix, Garlin and everybody else involved kudos for making such a totally non-commercial film. Even the one sheet image they use to promote Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie is odd. It makes it seem like we are watching a stand-up routine by Garlin rather than a Netflix mystery movie. I just wished the whole thing played a little tighter. That said, it definitely deserves to be it’s own series.